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Fetal rights are the legal or ethical rights of fetuses. The term is used most often in the context of the abortion debate, as the basis for an argument in support of the pro-life stance.

Fetal protection in law

Some laws seek to protect or otherwise recognize the fetus. Some of these grant recognition under specific conditions: the fetus can legally be a victim of a crime such as feticide, a beneficiary of insurance or social assistance, or an inheritor of property.

  • Iranianmarker law holds that anyone who brings about a miscarriage must pay a monetary fine, which varies depending upon the stage of development and/or sex of the fetus, in compensation.

Right-to-life and legal personhood

Legislative measures sometimes seek to establish the right to life of the fetus from the moment of fertilization. Such laws regard the fetus as a person whose legal status is on par with that of any other member of the species homo sapiens:

Other governments have laws in place that state that fetuses are not legally recognized persons:

  • In Canadian law, under section 223 of the Criminal Code of Canada, a fetus is a "human being ... when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother whether or not it has completely breathed, it has an independent circulation or the navel string is severed."

Much opposition to legal abortion in the West is based on a concern for fetal rights. Similarly many pro-choice groups oppose fetal rights, even when they do not impinge directly on the abortion issue, because they perceive this as a slippery slope strategy to restricting abortions.

Behavioral intervention

Various initiatives, prompted by concern for the ill effects which might be posed to the health or development of a fetus, seek to restrict or discourage women from engaging in certain behaviors while pregnant. Also, in some countries, laws have been passed to restrict the practice of abortion based upon the gender of the fetus.

  • Cultural preferences for male children in some parts of Asia, such as Mainland China, Indiamarker, South Koreamarker, and Taiwanmarker, have sometimes lead sex-selective abortion. This phenomenon might be partially responsible for the disparity between male-to-female birth rates which is observed in some places. India banned the practice of abortion for reasons of fetal sex in 1994.

Example cases

See also


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