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Feticide or foeticide is an act that causes the death of a fetus.[1] 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,[2] for example as the first phase of a legal induced abortion.[3] 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[edit | edit source]

Laws in the United States[edit | edit source]

File:Map of US, feticide laws.svg

Fetal homicide laws in the United States ██ "Homicide" or "murder". ██ Other crime against fetus. ██ Depends on age of fetus. ██ Assaulting mother.

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.[4][5] 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.[6]

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. [7] 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.[8]

Use during legal abortion[edit | edit source]

In abortions after 20 weeks, an injection of digoxin or potassium chloride to stop the fetal heart can be used to achieve feticide.[9][10] Less commonly, urea may be injected into the amniotic sac,[11][12] or the umbilical cord may be cut, resulting in the fetus bleeding to death.[12][13] Fetal death causes the tissues to soften, making removal of fetal parts in a dilation and evacuation procedure easier.[12] 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.[10] When used before labor induction, feticide prevents the possible complication of live birth.[14] The possibility of unsuccessful feticide — resulting in birth of a live baby — is a malpractice concern.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Definitions of feticide from
  2. Dorland’s Medical Dictionary.
  3. The Abortion (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2002 (Guidelines for doctors giving an abortion)
  4. NRLC. State Homicide Laws That Recognize Unborn Victims (Fetal Homicide)
  5. National Conference of State Legislatures. (June 2006). "Fetal Homicide". Retrieved January 19, 2007.
  6. NRLC. Constitutional Challenges to State Unborn Victims (Fetal Homicide) Laws
  7. People v. Davis, 7 Cal.4th 797, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 50, 872 P.2d 591 (Calif. 1994).
  8. See, e.g., Women’s Medical Professional Corporation v. Taft (6th Cir. 2003).
  9. -Vause S, Sands J, Johnston TA, Russell S, Rimmer S. (2002). PMID 12521492 Could some fetocides be avoided by more prompt referral after diagnosis of fetal abnormality? J Obstet Gynaecol. 2002 May;22(3):243-5. Retrieved 2006-03-17.
    -Dommergues M, Cahen F, Garel M, Mahieu-Caputo D, Dumez Y. (2003). PMID 12576743 Feticide during second- and third-trimester termination of pregnancy: opinions of health care professionals. Fetal Diagn Ther. 2003 Mar-Apr;18(2):91-7. Retrieved 2006-03-17.
    -Bhide A, Sairam S, Hollis B, Thilaganathan B. (2002). PMID 12230443 Comparison of feticide carried out by cordocentesis versus cardiac puncture. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Sep;20(3):230-2. Retrieved 2006-03-17.
    -Senat MV, Fischer C, Bernard JP, Ville Y. (2003). PMID 12628271 The use of lidocaine for fetocide in late termination of pregnancy. BJOG. 2003 Mar;110(3):296-300. Retrieved 2006-03-17.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. ____ (2007). Retrieved 2007-04-24.
  11. Patricia Lee June (November 2001). "A Pediatrician Looks at Babies Late in Pregnancy and Late Term Abortion". Presbyterians Pro-Life. Retrieved on 2006-12-24. See footnote 44.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Haskell, Martin (1992-09-13). "Dilation and Extraction for Late Second Trimester Abortion". National Abortion Federation Risk Management Seminar. Retrieved on 2007-05-05. 
  13. McDonald, Tim (Summer/Fall 2002). When is a Fetus Old Enough to Need an Advocate?. Wabash Magazine.
  14. Patricia Lee June (2001). See footnote 50.
  15. Jansen RP (1990). Unfinished feticide. J Med Ethics 16 (2): 61–5.
  16. Komaroff, Anthony. Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, page 913 (Simon and Schuster 1999): “Selective reduction is usually performed during the first trimester....”
  17. See, e.g., Berkowitz, Richard et al. "First-Trimester Transabdominal Multifetal Pregnancy Reduction: A Report of Two Hundred Completed Cases", American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Volume 169, page 17 (July 1993): "All of the procedures were performed in the first trimester by the transabdominal injection of potassium chloride into the thoraces of those fetuses that underwent feticide."

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