Missouri woman asks court for custody of frozen embryos

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis woman has appealed a court ruling that denies her custody of frozen embryos she created with her ex-husband, in a case that national anti-abortion groups seek to link to a similar one involving Hollywood actress Sofia Vergara.

Immigration lawyer Jalesia McQueen and Justin Gadberry had two twin boys, now 8, through in vitro fertilization before divorcing in 2014. A St. Louis County trial court ruled that the couple jointly owns the two remaining unfertilized embryos.

McQueen, 43, who wants to use the embryos to have more children, on Tuesday appealed that ruling to the Missouri Court of Appeals. Her ex-husband wants the embryos destroyed or donated to research or an infertile couple. McQueen helped create Embryo Defense, a group that advocates for others trying to reclaim frozen embryos from failed relationships.

Missouri Right to Life and two other national anti-abortion groups are asking the appeals court to be allowed to argue on McQueen's behalf, citing a 2010 Missouri law that says human life begins at conception. The Chicago-based Thomas More Society, which is providing legal assistance to that effort, has filed a similar request in Los Angeles in a dispute between "Modern Family" star Vergara and ex-boyfriend Nicholas Loeb, who wants custody of the frozen embryos they created before breaking up.

"When you go through this process and see these embryos created, they're your babies," McQueen said Wednesday at news conference at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, the historic building where 19th century slave Dred Scott fought to gain his freedom.

"Natural law tells us the African-American male is not human property," said Gerard Nieters, Missouri Right to Life legislative director. "And it tells us that frozen embryos are not human property."

Gadberry's attorney responded that courts in other states have consistently rejected the arguments put forth by McQueen's lawyers. No hearings have been set in the case.

"No court of record has held that embryos are a person, or are entitled to constitutional protections," attorney Tim Schlesinger said.

The groups Lawyers for Life and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists are joining Missouri Right to Life in the legal fight.


Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/azagier

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