If Modern Family ever does a gritty hourlong reboot on HBO, the yearslong battle between one of the show’s stars and her ex over a pair of frozen embryos would make a good storyline. Sofia Vergara and her then-fiancé Nick Loeb attempted in vitro fertilization twice in 2013. Both attempts failed, and two embryos remain frozen in a California clinic. Though the couple broke up soon afterward—and had signed a form saying the embryos would be brought to term only with both parties’ consent—Loeb has been fighting ever since to be allowed to implant them in a surrogate. “A woman is entitled to bring a pregnancy to term even if the man objects,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed last year. “Shouldn’t a man who is willing to take on all parental responsibilities be similarly entitled to bring his embryos to term even if the woman objects?”
It’s a bizarre case, but it won’t be the last of its kind. Most states don’t have laws regulating the custody of frozen embryos, and many experts say the court system has not caught up to the science. In the meantime, there are hundreds of thousands of embryos sitting in ice in labs and clinics across the United States. The vast majority will never be implanted. But as Slate’s Christina Cauterucci reported earlier this year, the fate of embryos produced by now-estranged couples is of increasing focus to anti-abortion activists who see them as a sympathetic and morally pure cause. (Since embryos are fertilized eggs, some view them as “pre-born children.”) An organization called Embryo Defense has taken a particular interest in the Vergara-Loeb case. At a movie premiere in 2015, the actress was confronted by protesters who chanted, “Unfreeze your daughters, unfreeze your heart” and carried banners with slogans like “Embryonic Lives Matter.”
Even before he wrote about Vergara’s personal life in the pages of the New York Times, Loeb was not the most sympathetic representative of his cause. After his marriage to a Swedish woman imploded in 2009, he cattily told reporters that she had reconnected with an old boyfriend. (The split made the news because Loeb was running for a seat in the Florida state Senate; Rudy Giuliani headlined a fundraiser for him at one point.) In the past decade or so, Loeb has been an aspiring politician, an aspiring actor (his demo reel is painful), and an entrepreneur hawking a condiment called Onion Crunch. Vergara reportedly left him because he attended a White House event as her plus-one and then tried to get President Obama to pose for a photo with a container of Onion Crunch.
The case took another strange turn this week, when Vergara’s lawyer requested that Loeb name two ex-girlfriends who had abortions when they were dating him decades ago. The past abortions are relevant, the lawyer says, because Loeb claims his personal belief that life begins at conception is behind his complaint. A California judge has now upheld the request. Loeb told Page Six this week that in the cause of protecting the women’s privacy, he “would rather go to jail than reveal the names.” Loeb is now in the strange position of defending two women’s privacy in the cause of forcing another one to become a mother against her will. (Vergara has one adult son.)
If living well is the best revenge, it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying tale of vengeance than Vergara’s current life. She was the highest-earning actress on television this year for the fifth year in a row. She has been nominated for multiple Emmy awards and is a spokeswoman for national brands including CoverGirl. And she has moved on romantically, too: She’s married to Joe Manganiello, an Adonis who has never once attempted to force the president of the United States to take a photograph with a hot dog topping. Will the legal system really force her to have a child with a man who has?