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Sarah Stewart wins Republican race to lead Alabama Supreme Court, weeks after frozen embryo ruling

FILE - Republican Sen. Bryan Taylor of Prattville, Ala., talks with reporters during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 28, 2013. Alabama Republicans are deciding their choice to replace retiring Chief Justice Tom Parker who in February 2024 drew national attention for quoting the Bible in a legal writing supporting a decision to recognize frozen embryos as children under a state law. Sarah Stewart, a current associate justice on the Alabama Supreme Court and Taylor, a former state senator and legal adviser to two governors, are competing for the GOP nomination. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Republicans in Alabama chose Justice Sarah Stewart on Tuesday as their nominee to lead the state Supreme Court, after the justices vaulted into the national spotlight last month for their decision to recognize frozen embryos as children.

Stewart defeated Bryan Taylor, a former state senator and legal adviser to two governors, to secure the GOP nomination. She will face Circuit Judge Greg Griffin, a Democrat from Montgomery, in November. The current chief justice is retiring due to age limits.

Stewart was among the justices who ruled couples could pursue lawsuits for the wrongful death of a minor child and their frozen embryos were destroyed in a fertility clinic accident.

The court's decision touched off a furor and raised concerns about civil liabilities for fertility clinics. Women in Alabama saw their appointments canceled and their path to parenthood put in doubt after three major clinics paused IVF services in response to the decision. Nationally, Democrats sought to rally their base by portraying it as an example of extreme conservative positions in the aftermath Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Alabama lawmakers have been debating legislation to shield clinics from legal liability, including legislation passed by Senate and House committees on the day of the primary.

Stewart joined a concurring opinion written by Associate Justice Greg Shaw that the wrongful death law covers “an unborn child with no distinction between in vitro or in utero.” Shaw added that all three branches of state government are bound to follow a provision in the Alabama Constitution in 2018 saying it is state policy to recognize “the rights of unborn children.”

By citing verses from the Bible and Christian theologians in his concurring opinion, Chief Justice Tom Parker alarmed advocates for church-state separation, while delighting religious conservatives who oppose abortion.

In Alabama, the chief justice serves on the state’s highest court, and also serves as the administrative head of the state court system.

Parker cannot run again because state law prohibits judges from being elected or appointed after age 70.

Kim Chandler, The Associated Press

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