What are Fetal Rights?

N. Madison
N. Madison

Fetal rights are a controversial subject. Essentially, fetal rights are the rights of an unborn baby that has reached about eight weeks of age inside his mother's womb. Some people argue that a fetus is a person who has the right to life and freedom from harm. Others, however, argue that since a fetus is not yet living without the life support of its mother, it should not yet have any rights. In some places, a fetus does have legal rights, but they start when the fetus is about 24 weeks old and has a reasonable chance of surviving outside its mother’s womb; some use 20 weeks as the threshold, which is about the time a female may first feel her baby kicking in her womb.

When a fetus' legal rights begin is a matter of legal and ethical debate, with relevant laws varying between jurisdictions.
When a fetus' legal rights begin is a matter of legal and ethical debate, with relevant laws varying between jurisdictions.

Much of the argument surrounding fetal rights has to do with abortion. Many people feel that a fetus is a human life and has the right to be born. Some supporters of this idea also call abortion murder. There are some people who believe a fetus has rights once it is beyond about 20 or 24 weeks of pregnancy. Others, however, state that an unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception.

Some people support fetal rights laws that require a C-section if one is needed for the health of the fetus.
Some people support fetal rights laws that require a C-section if one is needed for the health of the fetus.

On the other side of the fetal rights issue are those who do not believe the fetus is a human being or has any rights before birth. Often, people with this view do not believe governments have the right to restrict women from having abortions. There are others who believe a fetus should legally be called a person after about 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but do not think the fetus has rights until it is born. There are still others who do not argue over when the fetus becomes a life but assert that the government has no right to control what a woman can do with her body in general.

In some jurisdictions, fetal rights laws allow for charging a woman with a crime if she takes illegal drugs that could harm her unborn child.
In some jurisdictions, fetal rights laws allow for charging a woman with a crime if she takes illegal drugs that could harm her unborn child.

The fetal rights issue is not restricted to arguments over abortions, though a good deal of it centers around it. Fetal rights also become important when a person is accused of murdering a pregnant woman. Some people think the accused party should be charged with a double murder in such a case. Others may argue that only one viable life was taken.

Interestingly, there are even some cases in which a woman may be charged for harming her unborn child. In some jurisdictions, fetal rights laws allow for charging a woman with a crime if she takes illegal drugs that could damage her unborn child’s health. Additionally, there are some people who support the making of laws that allow for forced cesarean sections in the event one is needed for the health of a fetus.

Many people feel that a fetus is a human life that has the right to be born.
Many people feel that a fetus is a human life that has the right to be born.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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