Court: Divorced Woman Can't Use Frozen Embryos

Arizona Supreme Court rules that she can't have a baby over objection from her ex-husband
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 26, 2020 6:06 AM CST
Court: Divorced Woman Can't Use Frozen Embryos
In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 photo, containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla.   (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

A woman can't use her frozen embryos to have a baby over opposition from her ex-husband under terms of the contract they signed with a fertility clinic, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled. The high court ruling ends a case that drew support from social conservative groups for the woman, Ruby Torres, who had her eggs fertilized prior to treatment for an aggressive cancer in 2014 that rendered her infertile. After the couple divorced in 2017, the AP reports that her ex-husband didn't want to have children together and asked the courts to order the fertilized eggs donated under terms of the contract. A trial court ruled that the contract left it up to the courts to determine the fate of the embryos and then sided with the ex-husband, John Terrell, saying his interest in not having children whom he would be financially responsible for outweighed Torres' right to have a biological child.

The state Court of Appeals overturned that ruling last March, agreeing that the contract allowed courts to decide but saying Torres' rights to have children prevailed over Terrell's right not to become a father. The high court unanimously agreed with Terrell that the phrase in question “means that upon divorce or dissolution of the relationship, the parties chose to donate the embryos absent a contemporaneous agreement for use by one of them.” They noted the trial court came to the right conclusion, the only one that the contract allowed if both parents could not agree. The embryos will now be donated. “We’re disappointed of course, but the Supreme Court says what the law is so we have to abide by it,” said Torres' lawyer. The Arizona Legislature changed the law in 2018 in response to Torres' case. The law now allows a former spouse to use the embryos against their former partner's wishes, but relieves the ex-spouse of parental responsibilities like child support. The change is not retroactive and therefore does not apply to Torres' case.

(Read more embryo stories.)

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