In an Alabama Supreme Court ruling equating IVF embryos with people, Chief Justice Tom Parker cited arguments from across the planet and the centuries, all leading to one source for the court’s judgment: “God.”

In his concurring opinion, Parker quoted the Book of Genesis, an obscure 17th-century Dutch Protestant theologian and Italian Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas, positing that Christianity, at least, is in full agreement as to when a human life starts and that God views the ending of one as a personal affront.

Yet major religious denominations actually hold varied views about IVF, as do Americans, including those in the conservative Christian circles to which Parker belongs.

When in vitro fertilization began in the 1970s, scholars of some of the largest faiths urged caution. They raised issues including questions about how extra embryos would be disposed of, the morality of the business of making babies, and whether using donor sperm or eggs violated a marital bond. Others, including Hindus, Buddhists and some Protestant groups, were more quickly welcoming. Soon, major Muslim leaders permitted IVF, and it remains widely accepted in the Muslim world.

The Catholic Church, which teaches that life begins at conception, set the theological grounding for the modern antiabortion movement. In a 1987 document called “Donum Vitae,” the Vatican’s doctrine-setting arm said IVF was forbidden, for reasons including that it separates pregnancy and birth from the act of sex between a married man and woman.

Elizabeth Kirk, co-director of the Center for Law and the Human Person at Catholic University — the U.S. bishops’ university — told the Catholic outlet OSV News after the Alabama decision that “all of us should welcome laws and court decisions that comport with the truth of the human person, including the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death.”


Jewish leaders across the ideological spectrum have, overall, supported IVF and assisted reproduction. They cite God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply,” as well as Judaism’s belief that becoming a person with a soul — rather than human material — is a process, not something that is fixed at conception. However, different segments of Judaism disagree on how to conduct IVF.

Conservative groups are more focused on processes that don’t violate other rules, such as guarding the Sabbath for rest and not masturbating. Other issues include considering the Jewish status of the mother — Judaism is matrilineal — and converting a child if a donor egg comes from a non-Jew.

The majority of U.S. Jews are part of more liberal strains of Judaism, including the Reform movement, the country’s largest Jewish denomination.

The Religious Action Center, the Reform movement’s advocacy arm, and Women of Reform Judaism said on X, formerly Twitter, that they jointly reject the Alabama court’s assessment that “frozen embryos have equal rights to babies. … The AL court has prioritized one Christian theological interpretation of personhood, infringing on the religious freedom of many Reform Jews and others with different views.”

There is also significant diversity of belief within other religious denominations, including Methodism, Parker’s religious home.

His Montgomery megachurch, Frazer, until 2022 was part of the United Methodist Church, one of the largest Protestant groups in the country. The UMC supports IVF as well as donating extra embryos for medical research. Frazer split off in 2022, along with many other conservative United Methodist congregations, in a dispute over whether gay members should have rights to marriage and to serve as clergy. Frazer is now in the more conservative Free Methodist denomination, which believes life begins at conception and warns that reproductive technologies “generate a large number of ethical, medical, legal and theological questions even as they offer hope.”


Regardless of their faith group’s position, Americans are generally supportive of fertility treatments, including IVF, and have varied views about when human life becomes a human being, what the policy implications should be and how to weigh competing interests including those of mothers.

Pew Research’s most recent IVF-specific research, in 2013, found that only 12 percent of Americans viewed the practice as “morally wrong.” Only 13 percent of Protestants, a group that includes Methodists, and Catholics said IVF was morally wrong, as did just 9 percent of those unaffiliated with any organized religion, a fast-growing group with varied spiritual and theological beliefs.

Even among conservative evangelicals, a majority said IVF was either moral or not a moral issue at all, according to the 2013 Pew study. Close to half of all religious groups said IVF was not a moral issue.

Last year, Pew found that 61 percent of Americans believe health insurance should cover fertility treatments; 25 percent said they weren’t sure.

The country’s largest faith group is Protestants, followed by the unaffiliated and Catholics. The group includes everyone from extremely conservative evangelical groups to those on the liberal end of the spectrum, such as Episcopalians and Progressive Baptists.

The largest Protestant group is the 13 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, which leans theologically conservative. The SBC has not taken a position on IVF, though White evangelicals generally started to become more conservative and aligned with Catholics on reproductive issues in the 1970s and 1980s. The SBC is overwhelmingly White.


“IVF technology requires the moral alienation of goods that God intended to come together,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the SBC’s flagship school, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote after the Alabama decision, in describing a technology that separates sex from pregnancy. “The same technology that can allow a heartbroken young married couple the promise of pregnancy and a baby can, with donor gametes, be used by a same-sex couple or even a single woman to ‘have’ a baby. A single man or male couple can hire a surrogate to ‘have’ the baby for them. Thanks to IVF, the entire process can now be made into a market for babies as commodities, with sperm and eggs and embryos and rental wombs available in a dark market.”

The second-biggest group of Protestants are nondenominational, which means they are often attend individual churches or are individuals who aren’t part of an institution that can offer its viewpoint. Typically, however, research shows that nondenominational Christians often hold beliefs theologically and politically similar to those of Southern Baptists.

James R. Thobaben, dean of the School of Theology at Asbury Theological Seminary, a major evangelical Methodist school, said the early Christian church was “vehemently” opposed to abortion. However, in the Middle Ages, people began debating the relationship between body and soul, what exactly a “soul” is and when it enters the body.

“Is it 40 days? 80 days?” said Thobaben, a bioethicist. “And then there is the question of whether the physical body defines a person. I don’t know anyone who is honest who wouldn’t say: Once a cell is fertilized, it’s a distinctly human entity. Whether that’s a person is another thing.” Thobaben said he thought the default, though, should be toward assuming the entity deserves protection.

Thirteenth-century philosopher Aquinas, cited in the Alabama decision, believed distinctly human life didn’t come into existence until well into pregnancy, said Charles Camosy, who teaches bioethics and moral theology at the Creighton University School of Medicine in Nebraska and St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York. Aquinas was among the thinkers of his era who believed the human soul – in the fetal stage – goes through stages including vegetable and animal before becoming a human with a rational nature, he said. Aquinas believed male fetuses became “rational” before female ones, Camosy said.

“To cite Thomas Aquinas in support of the value of the early embryo is, at the very least, tone-deaf,” Camosy said of Parker’s court opinion.


Some Christians, especially evangelicals, trace their opposition to modern reproductive technologies to their belief that fully human beings are created at conception. They emphasize certain lines of scripture, often the same ones quoted in their objections to abortion.

Among the quotes most often used is one from the Book of Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart.”

Other scriptural references complicate their reading, however, including one in Exodus in which a pregnant woman is injured in a fight. Many translate this scripture as saying the woman miscarries, and it says that because “no other damage ensues,” a fine is levied against the assailant, not the capital punishment that would be called for in cases of murder.

The Rev. Larry Duggins, chancellor of a new denomination called the Methodist Collegiate Church that broke from the United Methodist Church in 2022, said the split is just now setting off debates about various topics, including the ramifications of belief in the “sanctity of life.”

“People are paying attention to and are aware of [the Alabama ruling] but it’s not like ‘I agree’ or ‘I disagree.’ It’s more like: ‘Look at this, what do we think of this?’” he said. Other issues now at the surface include questions about how intrusive government should be in citizens’ lives, and what role interpretations of Christianity should play. “Those are topics we all have to work through.”

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