State and federal laws in the U.S. covering
"fetal homicide" or "unborn victim" crimes
Overview of "fetal homicide" laws:
These laws criminalize injury or death to an embryo or fetus as a result of violence.
They provide that when a pregnant woman is attacked or killed, there are two
victims: the woman and the embryo or fetus. These laws usually contain clauses
that specifically exclude
Medical treatment, such as the removal of a uterine cancer or
termination of a ectopic pregnancy. The latter refers to the implantation by the embryo outside the uterus, often in a fallopian tube. Both procedures kill the embryo or fetus as an
unintended side-effect, or
Any action by the mother
These laws generally define a fertilized ovum, an embryo, and a fetus as a full human
person at any stage of development.
Some define the range of the legislation as extending from conception to
Others define it as beginning when pregnancy begins and extending until
birth. The medical definition of the start of
pregnancy is about ten days after conception when the pre-embryo becomes
implanted in the lining of the woman's uterus.
The difference between conception and implantation is not particularly
meaningful in this case because the presence of a pre-embryo -- sometimes
popularly called a "just-fertilized ovum" -- cannot normally be detected
until after it becomes implanted. However, defining personhood as starting at
conception has profound importance to many pro-life supporters, particularly in
reference to emergency contraception and
stem cell research.
The term "fetal homicide law" is not particularly accurate, because
many of these laws protect embryos as well as fetuses. Some pro-choice
supporters object to the term "unborn victim law" because they don't
regard an embryo or fetus in an early stage of development as having attained
personhood. Thus, they feel that at least some embryos and fetuses cannot be a
These laws have been opposed by many pro-choice groups and individuals
because they view them as an attempt to define pre-embryos, embryos, and fetuses
as full human persons, either from conception or from the start of pregnancy.
They view such laws as the next step in a battle to totally eliminate elective
abortion, and replace free access to early abortions with compulsory childbirth
for almost all pregnant women. They prefer an alternative approach: to give an
enhanced punishment to any person who attacks a pregnant woman, but to consider
the woman alone to be the victim.
These laws have been supported by many pro-life groups and individuals who
believe that human personhood begins at conception. Thus when a pregnant woman
is killed, the perpetrators is viewed as having actually committing two acts of
murder: the killing of both the woman and the embryo or fetus that she is
carrying. Since they feel that both the woman and the embryo/fetus have equal
human rights, they regard such assaults as double-homicides. In some states,
convicting a perpetrator of having committed multiple murders make them eligible
for the death penalty whereas a single murder would take execution off the
State "fetal homicide" laws:
According to National Right to Life, as of 2011-MAY-27, 36 states have "... unborn victim (fetal homicide) laws. 1 27 states have laws that recognize pre-embryos, embryos, and fetuses as victims -- that is from conception to birth. Another 9 recognize them as victims during part of this interval. 2
As of 2011-MAY-27, the following states have some form of fetal homicide or
unborn victim laws:
27 states cover the interval from conception to birth:
Fetal homicide, manslaughter, or vehicular homicide
Murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide.
Same as for a child or adult
Embryo or fetus
Murder, manslaughter, other crimes of violence
Homicide (various types)
Nine others cover the interval from some point in pregnancy until birth:
Start of interval
Possible criminal charges
12 weeks gestation
Murder, manslaughter, homicide
7 to 8 weeks
1) Unborn quick child
2) Unborn child
1) At quickening?
2) At viability
1)Felony of the second degree
2) Vehicular homicide
Murder or manslaughter
Murder or manslaughter
Unborn quick child
Unborn quick child
Unborn quick child
Another New York law conflicts with this. It defines a
"person" who is the victim of a homicide as a "human being who has
been born and is alive," -- presumably at the time of the offence.
** The Tennessee and Virginia laws appear to be ambiguous. The intent of the lawmakers appears to be to protect all pre-embryos, embryos, and fetuses; but the term used in the statute is "fetus."
The above information was extracted from the
National Right to Life web site. 2 They last updated their
list on 2011-MAY-27. If your interest is more than casual, we recommend that you
view that site and track down the applicable state law.
In 2003, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (a.k.a. as
"Laci and Connerís Law") was re-introduced to Congress.
Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) sponsored bill S. 1019 in the Senate.
Congresswoman Melissa Hart (R-PA) sponsored bill H.R. 1997 in the
On 2004-FEB-26, the House passed H.R. 1997 by a vote of 254 to 163. The
bill's principal supporters were the main House and Senate ; Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist (R-TN.); Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY);
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (R-PA); House Majority
Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX); and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO). The bill
defines an "unborn child" as a "member of the species homo
sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb." This
would cover a pre-embryo, embryo and fetus from about 10 days after
conception -- when it has entered the womb -- until birth. Representative
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) had proposed an alternative bill that would have
increased penalties for criminals attacking pregnant women but would
continue to consider the crime as having been perpetrated on one victim --
the woman. It was defeated 229 to 186.
James Sensenbrenner, House Judiciary Committee Chairman , (R-WI)
said: "Criminal law is an expression of society's values.
Anything less than making a woman and the unborn child separate victims
"does not resonate with society's sense of justice."
Representative Jerrold Nadler, (D-NY) said: "Real people are
suffering real harm while this House has played abortion politics
instead of acting to punish truly barbaric crimes."
Representative Louise Slaughter, (D-NY) said: "is not about women
and it is not about children. It's about politics." 3,4
In the Senate, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
offered an amendment which would add provisions to the bill dealing with
domestic violence programs and other issues. It failed 46 to 53.
A second amendment was offered by Senator
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) which would have created a new federal crime of "interruption
of the normal course of a pregnancy." It would have severe penalties but
would define only the pregnant woman to be the victim. It was defeated
by the narrowest possible vote of 50 to 49.
Senator Kerry, who was campaigning for the presidency, interrupted
his campaign to return to Washington to vote in favor of the Feinstein
amendment and against the bill.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act
of 2004 was enrolled on 2004-APR-01 by a vote
of 61 to 38. 5 It is also
called the. "Laci and Conner's Law."
President Bush signed the bill into law on 2004-APR-6.
Scope of the law:
State laws described above, apply to crimes anywhere within the state.
However, the federal legislation only applies to certain federal and military
It applies to crimes committed:
On federal lands,
On Native reservations,
In the military,
In post offices and other federal buildings
It also applies to certain crimes (interstate stalking, kidnapping, certain
drug offenses, bombings, and many others) anywhere in the U.S. 5
The law does not require proof that:
"the person engaging in the conduct had
knowledge or should have had knowledge that the victim of the underlying
offense was pregnant; or"
"the defendant intended to cause the death
of, or bodily injury to, the unborn child."
Thus, the perpetrator could be sentenced for the
injury or death to the embryo or fetus, even if he was unaware of the pregnancy, the woman was unaware of her pregnancy, and even if the pregnancy could not be detected by medical testing at the time.
"State Homicide Laws That Recognize Unborn Victims," National
Right to Life Committee, at:
"State Homicide Laws That Recognize Unborn Victims (Fetal Homicide),"
National Right to Life Committee, at: http://www.nrlc.org/
"U.S. House Passes Bill to Recognize Unborn Child as Second Victim of
Violent Crimes, 254-163;
Sharon Rocha Rebukes Senate Democrats for Obstruction," National Right
to Life Committee, 2004-FEB-26, at: