JOAN C. CALLAHAN
The debate over prenatal harm centers on the moral and legal status of the fetus. Despite a long tradition of the law not recognizing fetuses as persons, in the late 1990s there have been a number of attempts to control or punish pregnant women in instances of actual or presumed prenatal harm. These attempts have included the incarceration of pregnant women, the imposition of medical and surgical treatments (such as cesarean sections), and legal action against women after the birth of their children. Commentators in medical, legal, philosophical, and popular literature have divided on the question of the moral legitimacy of interfering with or punishing women in order to prevent prenatal harm. Among those who argue in favor, some assert that a human being is a person with the full rights of persons from fertilization onward, and others claim that advances in medicine and technology have made fetuses patients with the attendant rights of all human patients; still others point to the future rights and interests of the persons fetuses will eventually become. Opposing arguments either reply directly to those advanced for interfering with or punishing women or contend that legal action against pregnant women ignores the social condition that can give rise to prenatal harm.
Arguments in favor of intervening in a woman's pregnancy to prevent prenatal harm or punishing women for causing prenatal harm are based on the notion that personhood begins at fertilization and so are interwoven with the debate on abortion. Although there is no sound philosophi