“Incurring the Wrath of a Holy God”: Alabama Court Redefines “Children”


Margaret Atwood’s 1980s-era The Handmaid’s Tale always struck me as a horrifying but an unlikely tale. I was wrong. Margaret Atwood’s account of raging misogyny is coming closer to prediction than I could I have imagined.

In the book’s mythical Republic of Gilead, women were valued only for their ovaries — if viable. Their reproductive freedom was monitored and tightly controlled. Shadows of those restrictive standards are seen now in Alabama, where a majority of the Alabama Supreme Court issued a decision in a pair of wrongful-death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic. The court found that frozen embryos “should be considered children.”

Concurring with majority court decision, Chief Justice Tom Parker delivered a fiery biblical address saying, “Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.” Parker invoked the book of Genesis and the prophet Jeremiah and quoted from 16th and 17th Century theologians. In reaching its 8-1 decision, the all-white, all-Republican court cited an Alabama 1872 statute holding that the wrongful death of “unborn children” is subject to charges of killing a minor.

The court’s ruling, which rattled reproductive medicine practitioners across the country and shut down in vitro fertilization (IVF) operations in Alabama, is not only unscientific but absurd. It will force women who cannot easily conceive either to leave that state for increasingly costly help or to abandon IVF and endure multiple miscarriages. Other states with punitive abortion bans are likely to follow suit declaring that fertilized embryos (a cluster of eight frozen cells) are “children.” That finding seems a pathway to recognizing personhood for fetuses, a controversial goal long sought by anti-abortion activists.

After Alabama’s ruling, one shudders to think that it may be only a matter of time before we see the first lawsuit declaring legal standing for fetuses as well as for newly-fertilized eggs. The smatterings of undifferentiated cells are now the Alabama court’s so-called “unborn children.” The eight concurring Alabama justices, with ignorance or disregard for medicine, turned fundamentalist religious belief into lawmaking. The troubling and chaotic aspects of this ruling cannot be overrated.

It’s important to recognize that, in declaring pre-natal personhood, the motivating force may have been less about disrupting science than a drive to control women and their reproductive rights. The ruling substitutes religious belief for the law and moves into a new dark age of denying realities.

By declaring embryos “children,” the Alabama decision also gives impetus to the push to elevate fundamental Christian beliefs into a national religion. The bible-quoting Justice Parker made that plain in his sermonizing on the court’s decision. Parker subscribes to the Seven Mountains Mandate, a theocratic doctrine at the heart of Christian nationalism. That doctrine contends that Donald Trump is “on assignment from God.” One editorial writer noted glumly that we’re poised on “the slide to theocracy.”

In the aftermath of the Alabama decision, some Republicans (office holders like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu) joined with the overwhelming Democratic majority in opposition to criminalizing IVF. If you believe polls, a large percentage — likely as high as 80 percent of Republicans — support IVF. Yet there are still GOP hardliners like South Carolina’s Nikki Haley who initially declared that “to me, embryos are children.” She later backed away to point out that she didn’t directly oppose IVF and had used artificial insemination to conceive her own son.

Their backing for IVF has Republicans tying themselves in knots trying to have things both ways: defending IVF while continuing to maintain an anti-abortion position. They may be recognizing the fact that some 2 percent of all babies in the U.S. are conceived using IVF.

In Alabama, state legislators are hastily planning to introduce bills designed to protect IVF.  Curiously even Trump defended IVF in a post on his Truth Social network. However, as Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez was quick to point out, the Alabama decision was the direct result of Trump Supreme Court justices overturning Roe. There’s no doubt Alabama’s devastating decision will prove a powerful Democratic campaign issue this fall.

More than ever, it is now incumbent upon those who believe in women’s reproductive rights to redouble efforts at returning the nation to a sane place not ruled by religion or  nationalistic doctrine. On last year’s first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, commentators proposed possible steps to confront anti-abortion forces.

Among their recommendations: the need for voters to get political candidates on the record on abortion, and to include reproductive rights in the party’s national platform. Pro-abortion forces also should push elected representatives to introduce legislation to reinstate Roe even though it won’t go anywhere in the present Congress. In these dystopian times, it is important to have a clear path toward a more rational world.

Jean Godden
Jean Godden
Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and late for the Seattle Times. In 2002, she quit to run for City Council where she served for 12 years. Since then she published a book of city stories titled “Citizen Jean.” She is now co-host of The Bridge aired on community station KMGP at 101.1 FM. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.


  1. Thanks for your timely reminder, Feisty whoever you are.
    You might also note that the GOP once favored reproductive rights before the party reversed direction.
    It matters to have rights of protected spelled out in party platforms even if it’s been done previously.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.