A Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person In Illinois

Amie Newman

Illinois rules that fertilized eggs are not people. What does this mean for Colorado's ballot measure?

An Illinois appellate court on Friday reversed a 2005 lower court decision, ruling that a fertilized, unimplanted egg is not a person.

The case was originally brought to a Cook County judge as a wrongful death suit when an Illinois couple sued their fertility clinic for "tens of thousands of dollars" for inadvertently destroying the unimplanted eggs stored at the clinic.

According to Colleen Connell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Illinois,

"The lower court had accepted the argument that a human being is created when an egg is fertilized, regardless of whether the fertilized egg is implanted in a woman’s body or left in a Petri dish. Left undisturbed, the lower court’s decision could have limited the ability of women in Illinois to access contraceptive services and genetic testing. Moreover, the decision would curb the ability of couples in Illinois to use reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization, in starting a family."

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Connell also writes, on the ACLU blog, that the original lower court’s ruling that a fertilized, unimplanted egg is a human being was based on "antiquated Illinois abortion laws" that were almost continually challenged based on their unconstitutionality – laws that were blocked from enforcement by federal courts. According to the amicus brief (friend of the court report) filed by the ACLU of Illinois and partners, the laws actually contained provisions specifying how physicians must conduct an abortion; define an abortifacient in such a "manner that interfered with the right to birth control"; lay out abortion reporting requirements that interfere with patient privacy and more.

This ruling comes at an excellent time for reproductive justice advocates who are busy fighting a variety of measures meant to attack women’s rights to contraception and family planning in more covert ways.  As Connell notes:

The rhetoric used in Illinois around this decision fits a disturbing trend that we have seen across the nation — namely, that anti-abortion extremists now are focusing their attention increasingly on limiting access not simply to abortion but to contraception as well. In Colorado, for example, a ballot measure set to be decided this November would grant “personhood” to a fertilized egg, meaning that many forms of contraception that could prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus could be targeted for legislative bans. This effort seems to reveal the real agenda of the anti-abortion activists — to allow government bureaucrats — not women — the power to make decisions about birth control, abortion, genetic testing and pregnancy. 

Opponents of the Colorado measure, cited above, are set to rally on Wednesday in Denver to let people know how dangerous the implications of this measure are. 

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