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Court won’t allow forced motherhood
By Randy Diamond, Trenton Bureau, The Record, NJ, August 15, 2001

New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a woman cannot be forced to become a parent against her wishes, preventing her ex-husband from implanting their frozen embryos in another woman or donating them to an infertile couple.

But the ruling sidestepped broader moral and legal questions over whether the embryo can be considered human life and whether New Jersey public policy should allow couples who consent to fertility procedures the right to decide what to do with unused embryos.

In its 7-0 ruling, the court acted on narrow grounds, siding with the unidentified woman, known only as J.B. The court said that because the father, known as M.B., is not infertile, his former wife’s interest in not procreating outweighed his interest.

In other words, M.B.’s interest to procreate is not lost if he is denied an opportunity to use or donate the pre-embryos,” the court said. “In contracts, J.B.’s right not to procreate may be lost through attempted use or through donation of the pre-embryos. Implantation, if successful, would result in the birth of her biological child and could have lifelong emotional and psychological repercussions.”

The court did say the man, a devout Roman Catholic, could decide whether the seven embryos should be kept in cold storage or destroyed. His formed wife had not objected to the embryos kept in storage if he paid for their maintenance.

The court also set general guidelines for fertility clinics, saying that agreements should be written in plain language and that a qualified clinic representative should review the terms with couples. The court said this may help avoid future disputes.

M.B.’s lawyer, Eric Spevak, said his client will keep the embryos in storage.

“At least it gives us a chance to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court,” Spevak said.

J.B.’s lawyer, James Katz, said his client was thrilled with the decision.

“It’s what we argued, that becoming a parent should be a matter of choice, not coercion,” he said.

Katz said he considered it unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court would hear the case because there were no federal questions involved.

Pro-choice groups, who had filed briefs in support of J.B., hailed Tuesday’s court decision, while antiabortion groups, who had filed opposing briefs, denounced it.

Lenore Lapidus, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the court’s decision was the right one.

“Our main concern was that the woman’s decision not become a parent was respected,” she said.

But John Tomicki, executive director of the League of American Families, said the Supreme Court had approved the execution of children.

“Any biology student knows that human life begins at conception. The mother and father have already procreated, and it was the court’s responsibility to protect innocent human life,” Tomicki said. “This is a disgrace.”

 



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