Fetuses don’t have rights

I was listening to an NPR story the other day about the politics of abortion and was somewhat flabbergasted to hear the NPR blow it when explaining the basics of Roe v. Wade.  (Forgot to pay enough attention, though, to be able to find the link now).  Anyway, the reporter said that in the final trimester, the rights of the fetus were taken into consideration in the ability to make abortion illegal.  Not so!  Abortion can be largely banned in the final trimester under Roe, but because of a “compelling state interest” not the rights of the fetus.  The trimester framework for the legality of abortion, nicely summarized here:

Acceptable government regulation according to Roe v. Wade:

Different rules at different stages of pregnancy were considered appropriate:

  • In the first trimester, the state (that is, any government) could treat abortion only as a medical decision, leaving medical judgment to the woman’s physician.
  • In the second trimester (before viability), the state’s interest was seen as legitimate when it was protecting the health of the mother.
  • After viability of the fetus (the likely ability of the fetus to be able to survive outside and separated from the uterus), the potential of human life could be considered as a legitimate state interest, and the state could choose to “regulate, or even proscribe abortion” as long as the life and health of the mother was protected.

Anyway, very frustrating to hear NPR get this wrong.  And although Roe’s framework has been supplanted by Casey it still remains an important point that the issue is not the rights of the fetus, but the rights of the state in protecting potential human life (similar, but very different things).  Not to open a debate on whether this should be the case or not (personally, I’m pretty comfortable with the Casey framework), but people should at least understand the legal basis behind these important and conversational decisions (and if NPR is going to get it wrong, I’ll step in).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Fetuses don’t have rights

  1. rgbact says:

    Great. It good to know I live in a country where raccoons have more rights than a 8 month old human fetus. Thanks Roe v Wade and liberals. But hey, lets get on with lecturing the world about their inhumanity.

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