Magazine article The Futurist

Fetal Rights

Magazine article The Futurist

Fetal Rights

Article excerpt

Protecting fetal rights may diminish women's rights

A pregnant drug addict is jailed so she cannot take any more drugs that would harm her fetus.

A pregnant woman who is dying of cancer is forced to have a cesarean section, even though it would hasten her death.

A woman of childbearing age is denied employment in a plant that uses chemicals which could cause damage to a fetus if she were to become pregnant.

Efforts such as these to protect the unborn frequently have the side effect of eroding the rights of women, says Harvard University law professor Martha A. Field in Emerging Issues in Biomedical Policy, an annual review. Field notes an increase in fetal-protection efforts by doctors, employers, governments fighting against drug abuse, and others. Although higher courts have overturned many of these actions, new efforts are emerging, aimed at forcing women to do what a doctor or society believes to be best for her child. Suggestions have even been made that pregnant women be charged with child abuse when they fail to follow a doctor's orders regarding exercise, taking vitamins, keeping excess weight off, or staying in bed.

Laws that control or punish "errant mothers-to-be" set a dangerous precedent, argues Field. …

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