A court ruled that embryos are children. These Christian couples agree but struggle with IVF choices

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

They are all guided by a strong Christian faith and believe that life begins at or around conception. They’ve all grappled with the same weighty questions: How do you build a family in a way that aligns with your beliefs? Is IVF an ethical option, especially if more embryos are created than a couple can use?

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

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

The ruling – which decided a lawsuit over accidentally destroyed embryos – caused major clinics to suspend IVF services, sparking a backlash. State leaders came up with a workaround that shielded clinics from liability. Concerns about the future of IVF led U.S. senators from both parties to propose bills aimed at protecting 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 American democracy: freedom of religion and who counts as a full person.

“People have different ideas about what counts as a human being,” said Zoloth, who is Jewish. “And it is not a political question. It really is a religious issue.”

For many evangelicals, IVF can be problematic. The process is “inherently unnatural” and there are concerns about “the dignity of human embryos,” said Jason Thacker, an ethicist who directs a research institute at the Southern Baptist Convention.

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

Kelly and Alex Pelsor of Indianapolis turned to a fertility specialist after two years of trying to have children naturally. Doctors recommended IVF, which accounts for about 2% of births in the US

“I was honestly very scared,” says Pelsor, who believes life begins immediately after conception. “I didn’t know which way to go.”

Pelsor and her husband prayed. She went to a Christian infertility support group and decided to move forward with IVF. Her daughter was born in March 2022.

“I truly believe she is a miracle from God,” said Pelsor, 37. “She wouldn’t be here without IVF.”

Pelsor later miscarried a remaining embryo after it was transferred. So she never had to personally face the dilemma of what to do with extras.

Amanda Walker from Albuquerque, New Mexico, did.

She and her husband switched to IVF after five years of trying and a miscarriage.

She ended up with 10 embryos. She had five miscarriages. Her children became three: an 8-year-old daughter and twins who will turn 3 in July.

That left her with two more to worry about and pray about.

“We didn’t want to destroy them,” says Walker, 42. “We believe they are children.”

Matthew Eppinette, a bioethicist, says he hears many similar stories.

Couples tell him, “We got far into the process and we had these frozen embryos, and we never realized we had to make decisions about this,” says Eppinette, executive director of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity at Trinity International University, an evangelical school located in Illinois. He said the church and the medical community need to do more to educate people about IVF.

Dr. John Stormment, a reproductive endocrinologist in Lafayette, Louisiana, said there are ways to minimize the risk of extra embryos. For example, doctors may give fewer ovary-stimulating medications, or they may only fertilize two or three eggs. These adjustments can add about $5,000 on top of the usual $15,000 to $25,000 for a round of IVF.

Religious scholars say the IVF issue is largely under-discussed among evangelical Protestants, who do not take a clear stand against the Catholic Church’s procedure.

Still, Eppinette said most evangelical leaders would advise couples to create only as many embryos as they are going to use.

In his own life, Eppinette said he and his wife were unwilling to try IVF when faced with infertility.

Some couples find a solution in the adoption of embryos. Snowflakes, a division of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, has offered this service to more than 9,000 families since 1997, with more than 1,170 births. Executive Director Elizabeth Button said they received an influx of questions after the Alabama ruling.

Snowflakes offered a perfect solution for the Walkers. They opted for an open adoption, which allowed them to meet the family who adopted their embryos.

The adoptive mother had a miscarriage with one, but had a daughter with the other. The two families meet weekly and plan to vacation together.

Couples on the other side of the adoption scheme say it has been a good solution for them too.

Before finding Snowflakes, the Earles of Lakeland, Florida, had been struggling with infertility for years and were considering traditional adoption. IVF was not an option due to concerns about leftover embryos.

“We asked the Lord to guide us a little bit,” said Tori, 30, who belongs to a Baptist church.

They adopted thirteen embryos that had been frozen for twenty years. One of them was their daughter Novalie, born in April last year. With the remaining embryos they hope to have three or four more children, knowing that not all embryos grow into a baby.

“God can use anything for His glory,” said Sam Earle, 30. “There is certainly one aspect to consider with IVF: the ethics of freezing more embryos than you need… But for families struggling with infertility it’s a wonderful opportunity. ”

Amanda and Ryan Visser of Sterling, Colorado, feel the same way. When they faced infertility after having a child naturally 14 years ago, they felt uncomfortable with IVF. “At some point,” Ryan said, “you feel like you’re playing God too much.”

They raised and adopted two children, and later learned about Snowflakes. They adopted three embryos. Two became their twin boys, born in October. They plan to use or donate what they have left.

“God creates families in so many ways,” says Amanda, 42.

Several Christians who have faced infertility said they support the Alabama court ruling. Amanda Visser said she hopes this “paves the way for more states to consider the dignity of human embryos.”

Yet no couples said IVF should be stopped, although some questioned whether more regulation or education is needed.

Even among Christians who view embryos as precious lives, there is a spectrum of complicated views. Kelly Pelsor, for example, does not want IVF to be threatened anywhere.

“When clinics started pausing their services and things looked uncertain for a while, it broke my heart because for many people this is an opportunity to have a child,” Pelsor said.


Ungar reported from Louisville, Kentucky; Stanley from Washington, DC. Religion writer Peter Smith contributed from Pittsburgh.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. Associated Press religion reporting is supported by the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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