Nikki Haley says frozen embryos are babies, in response to Alabama ruling

Republican presidential candidate’s comments seen as endorsement of a controversial ruling by Alabama’s Supreme Court.

Republican presidential candidate and former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign visit ahead of the primary election in South Carolina [Alyssa Pointer/Reuters]

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley says she believes frozen embryos created through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) were babies, in comments seen as an endorsement of a controversial ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court.

Haley addressed the issue in TV interviews on Wednesday, days after Alabama’s top court said frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children.

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The ruling has rattled doctors and patients in reproductive medicine and caused the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to temporarily pause IVF treatments.

“Embryos, to me, are babies,” Haley told NBC News. “When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that’s a life. And so I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that.”

The former South Carolina governor added that she had her son after using artificial insemination, a different procedure which does not involve embryos in a lab.

Asked in a CNN interview later on Wednesday about the remarks, she said: “I didn’t say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling.” She later added, “Our goal is to always do what the parents want with their embryo. It is theirs.”

Haley is the last major 2024 Republican presidential challenger to frontrunner Donald Trump.

The two will face off a third time on Saturday in her home state of South Carolina, with Haley again trailing in opinion polls but refusing to drop out.

Trump has not publicly mentioned the Alabama ruling.

The southern state’s top court issued its controversial decision on Friday in a pair of wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic.

The embryos, stored in a cryogenic nursery, were destroyed by a patient who wandered into the nursery and accidentally dropped several of them on the floor.

Justices, citing anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, ruled that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the death of a minor child “applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location”.

“Unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in Friday’s majority ruling by the all-Republican court.

The ruling was greeted by widespread shock in Alabama, with patients confused about whether to proceed with IVF and others wondering whether to move their embryos, according to news reports.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has meanwhile paused IVF treatments due to fear of prosecution and lawsuits, according to a hospital representative.

“We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF, but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments,” the university statement said.

The White House said the ruling would create chaos for American families.

“This decision is outrageous – and it is already robbing women of the freedom to decide when and how to build a family,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a post on X.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies