Alabama Supreme Court’s Chief Justice and the Pro-Life Community’s Conception of God

Feb 29, 2024 by David Fowler

Alabama Supreme Court’s Chief Justice and the Pro-Life Community’s Conception of God
Last week Alabama’s Supreme Court caused a distressing stir even among some in the pro-life community by holding that a frozen embryo was a “child” within the meaning of the state’s wrongful death statute. The decision means the statute allows couples to recover monetary damages from an IVF storage facility that negligently allows their embryo(s) to be destroyed. But Chief Justice Tom Parker’s concurring opinion is the one to read, and I suspect it will make a number of those in the pro-life community nervous.
A Quick Overview of the Chief Justice’s Challenge to the Pro-life Community
While the Court’s majority focused on how the word “child” should be interpreted in the statute, the Chief Justice added a concurring opinion. A concurring opinion is one that adds additional thoughts to those expressed by the majority.
He opened his opinion with these words, “A good judge follows the Constitution instead of policy, except when the Constitution itself commands the judge to follow a certain policy.” In other words, good judges don’t legislate from the bench by imposing onto a statute their policy preference under the guise of “interpretation.”
But why would he speak of the state’s Constitution when a statute is in question? Because state statutes cannot be interpreted contrary to or in violation of the state’s Constitution.
So, what about the Alabama Constitution would apply to a situation in which an IVF facility negligently destroys couples’ frozen embryos?
The answer is found in the Chief Justice’s next statement. It explains why the state’s Constitution puts constraints around the interpretation of the word “child” in the statute, and it also explains why Alabama’s legislature may be limited in what it can do to “save” the IVF industry in the state.
In these cases, that [meaning following the policy in the state Constitution] means upholding the sanctity of unborn life, including unborn life that exists outside the womb. Our state Constitution contains the following declaration of public policy: ‘This state acknowledges, declares, and affirms that it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.’ Art. I, § 36.06(a), Ala. Const. 2022 (adopted Nov. 6, 2018) (sometimes referred to as "the Sanctity of Unborn Life Amendment").
In other words, the “policy” established by the people of Alabama is that unborn life is sacred.  Period. That policy judgment is not one the Court must like or agree with but one it must recognize and uphold.
Why Saying “Life Is Sacred” Is No Longer Enough
With IVF in the spotlight, the pro-life community and Christians in general must now speak to what the “sanctity of life” means beyond the context of abortion.
Being pro-life now implicates what Christians mean about God’s will. Is God’s will as to which human lives are brought into existence supreme over our will, or ours? Remember that “Thy will be done” thing” in Jesus’s model prayer for His disciples?
That leads to this question: Should any person who wants to use IVF to have a baby have access to it? Put another way, is unrestricted access to IVF how God designed his creation to work even when the intent is to deprive the child of a father or mother?
I don’t think so. Repudiating the way God made the world to work has serious problems for everyone if the God of the Bible exists.  
But some Christians might say, “David, the Bible doesn’t have anything to say about IVF. It was unheard of during Bible times.”
What follows is my reply.
The “Problem” Creational Revelation Presents for Everyone, Especially Christians
Christians believe that creation reveals the glory of God because the Bible says so. He created all things, so their purpose is His prerogative.
But a fundamental aspect of the glory of God is that He is Triune. That God is Triune means He is ontologically, or in essence, one in being, even though there are economic distinctions in His being, those of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as persons.
So, if we knew how to read creation and were not impaired in that reading by the noetic effect of our rebellion against God, we would see that God is Triune. 
If, then, creation reveals the glory of God, that means Christians need to see the distinct aspects of the created order (along with the society Adam and Eve were to create) as forming a unity that holds together. And it would hold together in perfect harmony if we knew God and applied that knowledge appropriately.
And this is where IVF confronts us with the final test of what Christians believe makes life sacred.
Is the Pro-life View of IVF Trinitarian and Why It Matters
While man and woman are both made in the image of God, that image is further revealed when those distinctives form a unity that is called a marital relationship. That unity of the distinctiveness of man and woman reveals in a creaturely way what is true when we speak of God as Triune.
The image of God is further revealed when that unity “creates” another human being God makes in His image, a creaturely depiction, imaging forth, or revealing of what the Triune God did in the initial acts of creation.
Therefore, if IVF is to continue, Christians and the pro-life community must also consider what they think about who God is and what He intends to reveal about himself in this technology. This is where the answer to the question, “Whose will is paramount?” becomes the issue.
If God’s will and the revelation of Him is paramount, how are Christians, as a priesthood unto God, to offer this technology up to Him as a work worthy of Him and who He reveals Himself to be?
It seems to me that, at a bare minimum,[i] IVF should be used only in the context of the male-female marital commitment because that is how God willed procreation to take place; that is how populating His world was to work. Admittedly, this raises profound questions about what we think the relationship between God and civil government is.
But Christians think God is relevant to all things, and if consideration of the Trinity in relation to IVF is dismissed by pro-life Christians, I would submit that life is sacred by virtue of another conception of who God is.
[i] Another consideration is the “creation” of more than one human being at a time and, if more than one is “created,” a question regarding the disposition of the other human beings remains. From a Christian perspective, it is God at work in this act of new creation through the instrumentality or secondary causation of scientific manipulation of sperm and egg. That is what makes life sacred; all life comes from and is dependent on God. Otherwise, Christians unwittingly concede that scientists are God and create life from what is only organic matter.

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