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Legal Protection of the Unborn Child and the Latest Science on Fetal Development

The number of state and federal laws providing  legal recognition of and protection for the unborn child has grown substantially  in recent decades, despite the Roe v. Wade decision. That’s because the Roe decision was focused on abortion and did not address the states’ capacity to legally protect the unborn child, as a human being, in contexts outside of abortion, e.g., when an unborn child is killed through the criminal acts or negligence of a third party.

Since the 1970s, AUL has worked to promote comprehensive legal protection of the unborn child, from conception. Today, there are 36 states with fetal homicide (unborn victims) laws, and 24 of them provide protection from conception.  Thirty-eight states allow a civil lawsuit for the wrongful death of the unborn child, at least at some stage of pregnancy .

That growth in legal protection has been spurred, at least in part, by developments in medicine and science over the past four decades.

The current (October 4) issue of Time, with the cover picture of the obviously pregnant woman, features a lengthy excerpt from the new book, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, by Annie Murphy Paul.  (This book was also reviewed in the September 9 issue of the Wall Street Journal.)

The jacket endorsements seem promising.  Paul apparently surveys “cutting-edge research” on fetal development and “shows that pregnancy is not a condition to be endured but the first nine months of being a mother….”  Paul’s notes cite medical journal articles (as recent as 2009) on fetal development and maternal impact during pregnancy.

This update on the science, and the possibilities for educating parents and the public about fetal development, are welcomed.  The jacket endorsements also suggest, however, that the book will raise implications for the thorny issue of maternal behavior and life-style and their impact on the unborn during pregnancy and whether public policy should regulate maternal behavior or life-style during pregnancy.