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APHA Scientific Session and Event Listing

Personhood at fertilization: At what cost to women?

Sarah Gareau, MEd, CHES and Kathryn Luchok, PhD. Department of Health Promotion, Education & Behavior, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, 800 Sumter Street, Columbia, SC 29208, 803-771-0549, gareaus@gmail.com

Purpose: To discuss implications of recent laws enacted to provide protection to a fetus as an entity separate from the woman. Background: Physical assault rates increase with pregnancy; homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. Federal and state laws such as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2003 (UVVA) and the 2002 revisions to the state child health insurance program, promoted as improving the livelihood of pregnant women, in actuality set the precedence to deny women their rights to privacy and bodily integrity. Implications: These laws increase fetal rights by establishing the legal personhood of a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus, therefore undermining the foundation for Roe v. Wade through the establishment of legal precedence. They have also been used to prosecute women who suffered stillbirths under fetal homicide statutes. With UVVA, sentencing for harming a fetus is equal to that imposed for harming a woman, which deters from the issue of violence against women. This approach also ignores the relevance of the shared maternal-fetal relationship, as noted by a recent ACOG ethics panel recommendation, and the importance of the woman as a patient/person in her own right. As states look to enact their own UVVA laws, support of bills avoiding a separate status for a fetus should be considered. States such as Arkansas, New Mexico, and North Carolina have enacted laws with enhanced penalties for inflicting harm on a pregnant woman. These laws protect women's rights while still reflecting the harmful effect of pregnancy loss.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Health Law, Women's Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Not Answered

Human Rights and Reproductive Rights: Experiences of Women

The 134th Annual Meeting & Exposition (November 4-8, 2006) of APHA