fetal abuse | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Fetal abuse, also known as fetal homicide or fetal endangerment, refers to criminal laws that protect unborn children from harm or injury caused by the criminal actions of others. These laws can take a variety of forms, depending on the jurisdiction, but they typically criminalize the intentional or reckless killing of an unborn child, or the causing of serious physical harm to an unborn child.

The specifics of these laws can vary widely from one jurisdiction to another. Some states and jurisdictions consider the fetus as a legal person and consider fetal abuse as a crime from the moment of conception, while others consider it a separate crime that is distinct from crimes committed against the pregnant woman. Others may consider it a separate crime only after a certain point in pregnancy, typically after the point of viability, when a fetus could potentially survive outside the womb with medical assistance.

Fetal abuse can be committed in various ways. Examples include:

      • Intentionally causing harm or death to a fetus through acts of violence, such as physical assault or battery
      • Exposing a pregnant woman to drugs or other harmful substances, which can cause harm or death to the fetus
      • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs while pregnant, which can cause harm or death to the fetus

Punishment for fetal abuse can be severe and can range from a few years in prison to life in prison, even death penalty in some jurisdictions. Sentences may also vary depending on factors such as the stage of pregnancy at the time of the crime, the extent of harm caused, and the perpetrator’s criminal history.

It’s important to note that many criminal laws on fetal abuse are new and evolving, and the legal definition and punishment can vary between jurisdictions. Also laws regarding abortion and fetal rights can be a complex and controversial topic, with some laws facing legal challenges and court rulings.

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Last Modified: 01/11/2023


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