A court ruled embryos are children. These Christian couples agree yet wrestle with IVF choices

When faced with infertility, Amanda and Jeff Walker had a baby through in vitro fertilization but were left with extra embryos — and questions. Tori and Sam Earle “adopted” an embryo frozen 20 years earlier by another couple. Matthew Eppinette and his wife chose to forgo IVF out of ethical concerns and have no children of their own.

All are guided by a strong Christian faith and believe life begins at or around conception. And all have wrestled with the same weighty questions: How do you build a family in a way that conforms with your beliefs? Is IVF an ethical option, especially if it creates more embryos than a couple can use?

“We live in a world that tries to be black and white on the subject,” Tori Earle said. “It’s not a black-and-white issue.”

The dilemma reflects the age-old friction between faith and science at the heart of the recent IVF controversy in Alabama, where the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have the legal status of children.

The ruling — which decided a lawsuit about embryos that were accidentally destroyed — caused large clinics to pause IVF services, sparking a backlash. State leaders devised a temporary solution that shielded clinics from liability but didn’t address the legal status of embryos created in IVF labs. Concerns about IVF’s future prompted U.S. senators from both parties to propose bills aiming to protect IVF nationwide.

Laurie Zoloth, a professor of religion and ethics at the University of Chicago, said arguments about this modern medical procedure touch on two ideas fundamental to the founding of American democracy: freedom of religion and who counts as a full person.

“People have different ideas of what counts as a human being. Where to draw the line?” said Zoloth, who is Jewish. “And it’s not a political question. It’s really a religious question.”

For many evangelicals and other Christians, IVF can be problematic, and some call for more regulation and education. The process is “inherently unnatural,” and there are significant concerns relating to “the dignity of human embryos,” said Jason Thacker, a Christian ethicist who directs a research institute at the Southern Baptist Convention.

“I’m both pro-family and pro-life,” he said. “But just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean we should.”

The promise and perils of IVF

Kelly and Alex Pelsor of Indianapolis turned to a fertility specialist after trying to have children naturally for two years. Doctors said her best chance for a baby was through IVF, which accounts for around 2% of births in the U.S.

“I was honestly very scared,” said Pelsor, who believes life begins as soon as growth starts after sperm and egg meet. “I didn’t know which way to go.”

Pelsor and her husband talked and prayed. She began attending a Christian infertility support group called Moms in the Making. She said she started to feel “this inexplicable peace about moving forward with IVF.”

Pelsor, 37, underwent a retrieval procedure in March 2021 and got five eggs. Three were able to be fertilized, and two embryos grew to the blastocyst stage and were able to be frozen. One was transferred to her womb in July 2021, and her daughter was born in March 2022.

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