Actress Sofia Vergara Sued By Her Own Frozen Embryos

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For the last few months, tabloids have been all over the legal battle over frozen embryos involving TV actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiance. The "Modern Family" star and her ex broke up a few years ago, after which he sued her for possession of the embryos.

Now, he dropped that case earlier this week, but a new lawsuit has popped up in its place, one that names the frozen embryos as plaintiffs. It says that the embryos are seeking the right to be transferred to a uterus so they can be born and claim an inheritance.

Now joining us to talk more about this is Susan Crockin. She teaches assisted reproductive law at Georgetown University Law School. Welcome to the program.

SUSAN CROCKIN: Thank you. It's nice to be here.

CORNISH: So how wild is this? Like, has anyone ever seen a lawsuit filed in the name of embryos?

CROCKIN: No, not in their name. There have certainly been cases where people have tried to say I'm doing this because my embryos. I consider them to be children. But this is the first I've seen where the actual attempt to have the embryos be the plaintiffs.

CORNISH: Right. Whoever filed the lawsuit gave them actual names.

CROCKIN: Yes, and that's not always uncommon when someone is trying to make this type of a leap from an embryo to, think of this as my child, please. It's part of an effort to personify the embryos.

CORNISH: Let's talk about that more because the embryos are stored at a facility in Beverly Hills. Sofia Vergara lives in LA. Her ex-fiance Nick Loeb lives in Florida. I say all this because the complaint is being filed in Louisiana. Why that state?

CROCKIN: It's an attempt strategically to find a way back into this lawsuit that Nick Loeb is losing in California. Louisiana's the only state in the country that has a statute that explicitly says IVF embryos should be considered, quote, "juridical persons" and have rights.

And so I think there was a group who's behind this who's taken an attempt to say, this is a place where we might be able to get traction and be able to sue. We can build on that statute, hopefully, which is questionable. And we have this new idea, a new way to get around it because it's failing in California.

CORNISH: Help us understand how this fits into the ongoing legal movement I guess around the idea of personhood...

CROCKIN: Sure.

CORNISH: ...By anti-abortion advocates.

CROCKIN: So for the last several years, there have been groups that have tried to introduce legislation in different states that say life begins at conception. In truth, what IVF has taught us from a medical scientific perspective is that fertilization and conception are very different things.

Fertilization occurs when the sperm enters the egg. Conception is really more appropriate for an implanted embryo and a developing pregnancy. So they're not - they're absolutely intertwined, and I think they're part and parcel of the same effort, if you will, to whittle away at abortion rights when frontal attacks haven't worked.

CORNISH: As we mentioned, you teach assisted reproductive law. What was your reaction when you first heard this?

CROCKIN: That it was clever and that it was demeaning to the people who use IVF and need it to create their families, that it is a Trojan horse for an anti-abortion effort. And again, you know, it was clever, but I thought it was - as the expression goes - clever by half.

CORNISH: Do you expect to see more intersection between the anti-abortion movement and reproductive law?

CROCKIN: I do if only because it is a way to, as I call it, nibble away, if you will, because the frontal attacks haven't worked. The irony is when you talk to a lot of anti-abortion advocates, they have no interest in getting rid of IVF or things that help infertile couples have children.

They're just trying to get at this idea that they want to protect life. And I don't think they're thinking about some of the repercussions it has throughout the entire field of sort of infertility, medical treatment and people trying to have families, which is what the treatment's for.

CORNISH: That's Susan Crockin. She teaches assisted reproductive law at Georgetown University Law School. Thank you for coming in to speak with us.

CROCKIN: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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