A Maryland woman has gained custody of nine frozen embryos she created with her ex-husband, according to an attorney working on the case.
Godlove Mbah of Greenbelt and his ex-wife, Honorine Anong of Upper Marlboro, were divorced in May 2012, but disputes have continued over the couple's stored embryos and a 3-year-old daughter previously conceived from one their embryos.
Though Mbah asked to have them destroyed, according to The Daily Record, Maryland Circuit Court Judge John Paul Davey signed an order in December giving sole custody of the embryos to Anong—a first-of-its-kind ruling in Maryland.
Davey found that the commercial contract the couple signed at the Shady Grove Fertility Clinic in July 2008—prior to the procedure—was valid, according to attorneys involved in the case.
That contract said the embryos would be given to Anong in case of a separation. Nataly Mendocilla, Mbah's attorney, argued that her client's signature wasn't notarized.
Although Mbah lost the dispute over the embryos, he was awarded sole custody of the couple's 3-year-old daughter in April after her mother was found "unfit to have custody", Mendocilla said.
"I disagree with the court's opinion," Johnine Clark, Anong's attorney, said of the custody issue.
According to Clark, the judge based his decision on an incident when Anong left her toddler alone for a few hours during the day. Mbah also reported other occurences as well, but Clark denied those reports.
However, Mbah's attorney argued that giving Anong custody of the embryos is taking away her client's rights to choose whether or not to father another child.
Anong wants to have more children, Mendocilla said, and now Mbah is obligated to be a parent against his will "with his ex-wife who has lost custody of the one child they do have because of neglect."
Mendocilla believes her client should have equal rights in that decision. Clark contends that her client cannot have children by any other means because her fallopian tubes were removed to help her conceive through in vitro fertilization.
The frozen embryos are the only way Anong can have more children, Clark said.
But Mendocilla argued that it is a matter of public policy.
"If a woman can clearly have an abortion of a known viable fetus, why can we not apply those same laws to a father who does not want to be a parent?" she asked.
Currently, Anong has the right to implant the embryos, although Mbah's attorney has filed a stay to prevent any action pending an appeal.
The stay was filed on Dec. 28, but as of Friday, it had not been not granted.