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Rights+of+Unborn+Children - The Rights of Unborn Children...

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26 H A S T I N G S C E N T E R R E P O RT March-April 2006 A quarter century after the “International Year of the Child,” we now seem to be in the era of the “Unborn Child.” Partly this is because of medical advances: highly refined imaging techniques have made the fetus more visually accessible to parents. In good measure, however, the new era is a product of political shifts. In 2004, President Bush signed into law the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes it a separate federal offense to bring about the death or bodily injury of a “child in utero” while committing certain crimes, and recognizes everything from a zygote to a fetus as an independent “victim” with legal rights distinct from the woman who has been harmed. In 2002, the De- partment of Health and Human Services adopted new regu- lations expanding the definition of “child” in the State Chil- dren’s Health Insurance Program “so that a State may elect to make individuals in the period between conception and birth eligible for coverage.” Finally, Senator Brownback and thirty- one cosponsors have proposed the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, a scientifically dubious piece of legislation that would require physicians performing the exceedingly rare abortions after twenty weeks to inform pregnant women of “the option of choosing to have anesthesia or other pain- reducing drug or drugs administered directly to the pain-ca- pable unborn child.” The legislative focus on the unborn is aimed at women who choose abortion, but it may also have adverse conse- quences for women who choose not to have an abortion, and it challenges a central tenet of human rights—namely, that no person can be required to submit to state enforced surgery for the benefit of another. The historical context of fetal rights legislation should make the most fervent proponents of fetal rights—pregnant women—wary. Often, in the past, expansions of fetal rights have been purchased through the diminution of pregnant women’s rights. The fetal “right” to protection from environ- mental toxins cost pregnant women the right to good jobs: for nearly ten years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against such polices in 1991, companies used “fetal protec- tion” policies as a basis for prohibiting fertile women from taking high-paying blue collar jobs that might expose them to lead. The fetal “right” to health and life has cost women their bodily integrity (women have been forced to undergo cesarean sections or blood transfusion), their liberty (women have been imprisoned for risking harm to a fetus through al- cohol or drug use), and in some cases their lives (a court-or- dered cesarean section probably accelerated the death in 1987 of Angela Carder, who had a recurrance of bone cancer that had metastasized to her lung). The fetal “right” not to be exposed to pharmaceutical agents has cost pregnant women their right to participate in drug trials that held out their only hope of cure from lethal illnesses. The vehicle for these in-
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