Modern families

Anti-abortion groups wade into custody battles over frozen embryos

An embryologist moves frozen embryos shipped from donors. (Shawn Poynter/The New York Times)

Breakthroughs in fertility medicine over the years have brought joy and happiness to couples that otherwise might not have been able to conceive, but they’ve also brought complications for some men and women who don’t stay together. The new battleground in some divorce cases, as seen in the high-profile dispute between actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-husband last year, is that of frozen embryos. And increasingly, anti-abortion groups are glomming onto these legal battles in pursuit of their own agendas. A common argument from anti-abortion groups is that disputes over frozen embryos should be decided with the best interests of the embryo in mind. They contend that the same legal standard used in child-custody disputes applies to frozen embryos. While they do intervene in disputes, they typically do so with recruitment from one of the battling parties. Jalesia McQueen, 43, a woman from Missouri who’s locked in a dispute with her ex-husband, Justin Gadberry, over frozen embryos invited an anti-abortion group to help fight her legal battle after a court ruled that she could not use frozen embryos without Gadberry’s consent. “This is the thing that kills me — having to fight to get my own children,” said McQueen, who recruited the same anti-abortion group, the Thomas More Society, that intervened in Vergara’s dispute to get involved in hers. It was a move that exasperated Gadberry.

Thomas Olp, the lawyer who runs the the Thomas More Society filed a brief in the case in which he argued that the embryos basic rights were to be born. “Husbands and wives can divide up their property however they want,” he wrote in the brief, “but embryos are living beings, so the legal standard has to be what’s in their best interest.” He added, “No other right is of any avail if a human being is not around to invoke it.”

In Olp’s conservative law firm, McQueen has found an unlikely champion of her ongoing “emotional” cause. For years, McQueen said, she was a supporter of abortion rights. Now? “I would have been happy if the pro-choice groups had filed on my behalf, because it is an important case and there are arguments on both sides.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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