On National Public Radio, a guest raised the question of whether the rights of a fetus, presuming such rights exist, supersedes the rights of the pregnant mother. The most memorable example provided was the story of a 27 year old pregnant mother advised by her doctor that a full term pregnancy and birth, even by cesarean, would end her life. Additionally, it was likely that the child would not survive. The mother wanted an abortion to save her life, but was ordered by a court to undergo a cesarean section to protect the rights of the fetus. The mother died during the procedure and the child died shortly after birth.
The issue of whether a woman relinquishes her rights to the fetus when she is pregnant is just one of many issues raised by the rise of anti-abortion and pro choice campaigns. The most recent case involves a Wisconsin woman challenging the state’s fetal rights law after being forced to a drug rehabilitation facility after voluntarily acknowledging a past drug addiction. Under the state law, a court can protect “an unborn child alleged to be in need of protection or services” if the mother is addicted to alcohol or drugs. Exactly how does an unborn child allege to be in need of protection? In this case, through an appointed attorney for the child and a doctor reiterating the dangers of alcohol or drugs during pregnancy.
Children undoubtedly need protection from parents unfit to provide the necessary care and support to enable them to become productive members of society. And under federal law, unborn children are protected from assault and other harm caused by someone other than the expectant mother. So then is it only fair they have protections against a mother’s unfavorable choice? Should the law obligate a mother of an unborn child to put their rights or needs aside for the sake of a child?
In my article “Forced to Parent,” a commentator wrote that the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, was flawed because it excluded prosecution of a pregnant mother who harms an unborn child. But such prosecution would be in contravene to a woman’s right to choose. Should a pregnant woman’s rights be limited in favor of protecting the unborn child?