NEWSWEEK COVER: Should a Fetus Have Rights?

Majority of Americans Believe Life Begins at Conception;

56% Support Separate Murder Charges For Killing of Fetus

Advances In Fetal Science Fuels Political, Moral and Ethical Debates

Jun 01, 2003, 01:00 ET from Newsweek

    NEW YORK, June 1 /PRNewswire/ -- A majority of Americans believe that life
 either begins at conception (46%) or when an embryo is implanted in a woman's
 uterus (12%), according to a special Newsweek poll. Another quarter (24%)
 believe human life begins when the fetus is viable, i.e., can survive outside
 the womb. Only 11 percent believe that human life begins at birth. The
 findings are part of the June 9 cover story, "Should a Fetus Have Rights?,"
 (on newsstands Monday, June 2). National Correspondent Debra Rosenberg
 examines the new battle over the fate of the unborn, as abortion opponents
 build a legal case to define the fetus-and even the embryo-as an individual
 entitled to basic human rights.
     (Photo: )
     Rosenberg reports that the politics of the womb have never been more
 personal -- or more complicated. With the Laci Peterson murder case making
 headlines and Congress poised to tackle both the Unborn Victims of Violence
 Act and the ban on partial-birth abortion this month, fetal rights have found
 new prominence on the public stage. Recent dramatic breakthroughs in fetal and
 reproductive medicine only add to the confusion. Along with forcing Americans
 into more-nuanced stances, the new science is also fanning longstanding,
 divisive political feuds -- over the legality and morality of ending a
 pregnancy, about the rights of a woman versus the rights of an embryo or
 fetus, and, ultimately, over the meaning of human life.
     Rosenberg reports that 28 states have fetal-homicide laws on the books. In
 many states, the laws take effect only after a fetus is able to live outside
 the uterus, around 24 weeks. But 14 states cover a developing child from the
 moment an embryo implants in a woman's uterus-well within the legal time frame
 for an abortion. The Newsweek Poll shows that when it comes to criminal
 penalties for killing a fetus, Americans widely believe that a fetus should be
 treated as a human life. When asked whether prosecutors should be able to
 bring separate murder charges against someone who kills a fetus still in the
 womb, a majority (56%) of Americans say this should be done in all cases where
 a pregnant woman is murdered and another quarter (28%) would allow it only in
 cases where the fetus is considered viable. There is majority support for
 charging a killer with a double murder among Republicans (61%), Democrats
 (54%), and Independents (55%). Almost three-quarters (71%) of those who are
 pro-life and less than half (41%) of those who are pro-choice hold such views.
     Rosenberg reports that abortion-rights activists worry that the new focus
 on the fetus is part of a broad strategy to undermine the very bedrock of Roe
 v. Wade. The courts are the other major weapon in the fetal-rights arsenal,
 she writes. If they can't overturn Roe directly, abortion opponents would like
 nothing more than to have sympathetic judges in as many courtrooms as
 possible. The fight is certain to grow even uglier if, as expected, there's at
 least one vacancy on the high court before Bush leaves office.
     Abortion opponents are setting their sights on ever-tinier targets,
 including the thousands of frozen embryos in storage at in vitro fertilization
 clinics across the country, Rosenberg reports. The Newsweek Poll indicates
 that although nearly half (46%) of Americans would consider a fertilized egg
 the beginning of human life, significantly fewer (33%) say they regard the
 extra human embryos created in fertility clinics as "children to be adopted."
 About a quarter (27%) think of them more as a "potential source of human
 organs than can be donated" and another quarter (22%) think of them as neither
 children nor a source of organs. By a margin of 49 percent to 37 percent,
 Americans feel it is okay for clinics to destroy these extra human embryos if
 their patients approve. Among those who are pro-choice, that margin widens to
 69 percent versus 22 percent.
     Rosenberg also interviews two bioethicists to examine the pros and cons of
 fetal rights. Bonnie Steinbock, a bioethicist in favor of abortion rights,
 makes the case against fetal rights. She has written several books on medical
 ethics, including "Life Before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos
 and Fetuses," and is chair of philosophy at SUNY Albany. Hadley Arkes, the
 author of "Natural Rights and the Right to Choose" and a fellow in Princeton
 University's politics department, argues on behalf of the embryo.
     Also in the cover package, General Editor Claudia Kalb reports that no
 matter what legislators, activists, judges or even individual Americans decide
 about fetal rights, medicine has already granted unborn babies a unique form
 of personhood-as patients. From rare in utero procedures to the amazing 3-D
 ultrasound prints made in chain stores like Fetal Fotos, recent scientific
 advances have taken us inside the womb and enabled us to see, as never before,
 the wonder of developing life. In any other field of medicine, the impact of
 these dramatic improvements in treatment and technology would be limited
 largely to doctors, patients and their families, Kalb writes. But 30 long and
 contentious years after Roe v. Wade, science that benefits fetuses cannot help
 but fuel the ongoing political, moral and ethical debates. And the doctors
 know this better than anyone. Kalb explores the advances of fetal science,
 including experimental treatments ranging from tumor removal to spinal cord
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