Frozen Embryos Are the New Orphan Crisis

More than a million unused IVF embryos are in cryostorage. Are they the next pro-life frontier?

Evangelicals and other pro-life advocates saw the 2022 Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization as a turning point in the fight against abortion in the United States. After the court overturned Roe v. Wade and removed federal protection for the procedure, some conservative states began introducing fetal personhood laws, granting the unborn the same rights as full-born children.

But Hannah Strege watched it all unfold with another vulnerable group in mind: frozen embryos. In this new era, would they have rights? If they did, would anyone respect them?

Strege, 24, was conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) in 1996 and frozen for two years. In 1997, she and 19 of her siblings were adopted in embryo form by John and Marlene Strege. They were shipped by FedEx to a local fertility clinic. Hannah was the only embryo to survive thawing and to successfully implant in Marlene’s uterus. She was born in December 1998.

“The baby is created in a laboratory and transferred to a uterus. The baby contains all the components of a separate life to become fully developed, at the time of fertilization. The frozen embryo lives outside his or her mother’s womb, ‘albeit with artificial aid,’” wrote the authors of an amicus brief submitted in July 2021 for the Dobbs case to highlight personhood at the earliest stages of development. “Hannah’s life is proof-positive of this fact.”

Hannah was not the first human born from a donated embryo—that is thought to have happened in 1984. But Hannah was born at the height of the debate over embryonic stem cell research in the late ’90s and early 2000s and is known as the first “snowflake …

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