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Custody Battle over "Adopted" Embryos

It's a custody battle the likes of which has never been seen - and puts right-to-life issues front-and-center.

A California family offered four frozen embryos for "adoption."

Three months ago, a St. Louis woman had twins using two of the donated embryos, and she's now suing to try to prevent the donors from giving their two other frozen embryos to another family.

Jen McLaughlin, 39, contends that would be like splitting up a family.

She calls 12-week-old Anna and Sarah her miracles, reports CBS News Correspondent Kelly Wallace.

McLaughlin, who couldn't have children, adopted five kids -- four from Russia and one from Missouri -- before reading about embryo adoption.

"I was like, 'This is perfect!" ' she told CBS News. " 'I'll have the opportunity to be pregnant in addition to giving a child that needs a home, a home." '

She located the donor couple on a Web site.

In a contract signed by McLaughlin and the couple, the embryos were described as "pre-born children who are entitled to the rights and protection accorded to all children, legally and morally."

"We believe life begins at conception," McLaughlin explains. "So, we really felt like we were adopting two babies."

McLaughlin wants to use the two remaining embryos to give birth again, because she considers them Anna and Sarah's siblings.

But last month, the donor mother notified McLaughlin that she wanted to give the embryos to another family, and is demanding them back by the end of Friday.

McLaughlin hired attorney Albert Watkins to try to prove that she has a legal right to keep them, and expand her family.

Asked why, with seven other children, it's so important to her to give birth to children from the other two embryos, McLaughlin said, replied, "Because they're Sarah and Anna's genetic siblings. They're also my children's -- my other adopted children's biological siblings."

"My understanding of entering into the contract," she told "Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez, "was that we were given these four embryos, which I considered frozen children, frozen in time, and to take on all legal and moral and ethical -- to take accountability for them, from when they're frozen and as long as I live. And that's my intention and that's what I want to do.

"And I believe that, as a society, we firmly believe that siblings should be kept together. To the best of my knowledge, every state in the United States fights for siblings that end up in the foster care system to keep them together, if at all possible, and also to find an adoptive family together.

" … This isn't the first time that I fought for siblings. I wasn't in a fighting situation legally, (but) the Russian government worked with me to unite my second-oldest son, Patrick, with his biological brother that was living in Russia that he had never met."

Watkins, the lawyer, disagreed when Rodriguez observed that, "The (adoption) contract (covering all four embryos) expires today, and she would essentially give up her rights to unused embryos. … Legally, after today, they're no longer her embryos."

"Actually," Watkins countered, "legally, they are her embryos. The contract does not expire. There's a provision in the contract that permits the donor couple, after one year, to seek and request control over the disposition of those embryos.

"However, the underlying provision was prepared and incorporated into that contract as part of a methodology designed to maintain the fundamental tenants of very conservative Christians or Catholics, and not go against church doctrine.

"The thought process was, if there are embryos left after the embedding process that those embryos cannot last or endure forever in this cryo-preserved state. In essence, everybody as has a chance to live. And under this contract, these are living beings. Everybody knows that.

"What wasn't contemplated was that Jen would be successfully embedded right off the bat with two of the embryos, which then necessarily precluded -- because you can't embed in a pregnant women -- necessarily precluded her from being able to utilize the remaining two embryos during that one year period.

"She is in a post-partum state right now, she is not medically in a condition to have those additional children that happen to be, A, live beings under the terms of the contract, and, B siblings of these children that have been born."