Definitions

Feticide

Feticide

[fee-tuh-sahyd]

Feticide or foeticide is an act that causes the death of a fetus. In a legal context, "fetal homicide" refers to the deliberate or incidental killing of a fetus due to a criminal human act, such as a punch or kick to the abdomen of a pregnant woman. As a medical term, feticide is destruction of a fetus, for example as the first phase of a legal induced abortion. Feticide does not refer to the death of a fetus from entirely natural causes, or through the spontaneous abortion of a pregnancy where the life of the fetus could not be maintained artificially ex utero.

Fetal homicide

Laws in the United States

In the U.S., most crimes of violence are covered by state law, not federal law. Thirty-five (35) states currently recognize the "unborn child" (the term usually used) or fetus as a homicide victim, and 25 of those states apply this principle throughout the period of pre-natal development. These laws do not apply to legal induced abortions. Federal and state courts have consistently held that these laws do not contradict the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on abortion.

In 2004, Congress enacted and President Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes the "child in utero" as a legal victim if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of any of 68 existing federal crimes of violence. These crimes include some acts that are federal crimes no matter where they occur (e.g., certain acts of terrorism), crimes in federal jurisdictions, crimes within the military system, crimes involving certain federal officials, and other special cases. The law defines "child in utero" as "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb."

Of the 35 states that recognize fetal homicide, 25 apply the principle throughout the period of pre-natal development, while 10 establish protection at some later stage, which varies from state to state. For example, California treats the killing of a fetus as homicide, but does not treat the killing of an embryo (prior to approximately eight weeks) as homicide, by construction of the California Supreme Court. Some other states do not consider the killing of a fetus to be homicide until the fetus has reached quickening or viability.

Unlawful abortion may be considered "feticide", even if the pregnant woman consents to the abortion.

Use during legal abortion

In abortions after 20 weeks, an injection of digoxin or potassium chloride to stop the fetal heart can be used to achieve feticide. Less commonly, urea may be injected into the amniotic sac, or the umbilical cord may be cut, resulting in the fetus bleeding to death. Fetal death causes the tissues to soften, making removal of fetal parts in a dilation and evacuation procedure easier. In the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled that a legal ban on intact dilation and extraction procedures does not apply if feticide is completed before surgery starts. When used before labor induction, feticide prevents the possible complication of live birth. The possibility of unsuccessful feticide — resulting in birth of a live baby — is a malpractice concern.

The most common method of selective reduction — a procedure to reduce the number of fetuses in a multifetus pregnancy — is feticide via a chemical injection into the selected fetus or fetuses. The reduction procedure is usually performed during the first trimester of pregnancy. It often follows detection of a congenital defect in the selected fetus or fetuses, but can also reduce the risks of carrying more than three fetuses to term.

See also

References

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