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Feticide or foeticide is an act that causes the death of a fetus.[1] In a legal context, "fetal homicide" or "child destruction" refers to the deliberate or incidental killing of a fetus due to a criminal human act, such as a blow to the abdomen of a pregnant woman.[citation needed] As a medical term, feticide is destruction of a fetus,[2] for example as the first phase of a legal induced abortion.[3] Feticide does not refer to the death of a fetus from entirely natural causes, such as the miscarriage of a pregnancy.[citation needed]

Fetal homicide

Laws in the United States

File:Map of US, feticide laws.svg

Fetal homicide laws in the United States

  "Homicide" or "murder".
  Other crime against fetus.
  Depends on age of fetus.
  Assaulting woman.

In the U.S., most crimes of violence are covered by state law, not federal law. Thirty-five (35) states currently recognize the "unborn child" (the term usually used) or fetus as a homicide victim, and 25 of those states apply this principle throughout the period of pre-natal development.[4][5] These laws do not apply to legal induced abortions. Federal and state courts have consistently held that these laws do not contradict the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on abortion.[6]

In 2004, Congress enacted and President Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes the "child in utero" as a legal victim if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of any of 68 existing federal crimes of violence. These crimes include some acts that are federal crimes no matter where they occur (e.g., certain acts of terrorism), crimes in federal jurisdictions, crimes within the military system, crimes involving certain federal officials, and other special cases. The law defines "child in utero" as "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb."

Of the 35 states that recognize fetal homicide, 25 apply the principle throughout the period of pre-natal development, while 10 establish protection at some later stage, which varies from state to state. For example, California treats the killing of a fetus as homicide, but does not treat the killing of an embryo (prior to approximately eight weeks) as homicide, by construction of the California Supreme Court.[7] Some other states do not consider the killing of a fetus to be homicide until the fetus has reached quickening or viability.

Unlawful abortion may be considered "feticide", even if the pregnant woman consents to the abortion.[8]

Child destruction

In English law, "child destruction" is the crime of killing a child "capable of being born alive", before it has "a separate existence".[9] The crime was introduced by the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, to address a lacuna in the law:[9] infanticide did not apply to fetuses, and "procurement of a miscarriage" (criminal abortion under the Offences against the Person Act 1861) applied only to unviable fetuses. The Crimes Act 1958 defined "capable of being born alive" as 28 weeks' gestation, later reduced to 24 weeks.[9] The 1990 Amendment to the Abortion Act 1967 means a medical practitioner cannot be guilty of the crime.[9] The charge of child destruction is rare.[10] A woman who had an unsafe abortion while 7½ months pregnant was given a suspended sentence of 12 months in 2007;[11] the Crown Prosecution Service was unaware of any similar conviction.[10]

Use during legal abortion

In abortions after 20 weeks, an injection of digoxin or potassium chloride to stop the fetal heart can be used to achieve feticide.[12][13] Less commonly, urea may be injected into the amniotic sac,[14][15] or the umbilical cord may be cut, resulting in the fetus bleeding to death.[15][16] Fetal death causes the tissues to soften, making removal of fetal parts in a dilation and evacuation procedure easier.[15] In the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled that a legal ban on intact dilation and extraction procedures does not apply if feticide is completed before surgery starts.[13] When used before labor induction, feticide prevents the possible complication of live birth.[17] The possibility of unsuccessful feticide—resulting in birth of a live infant—is a malpractice concern.[18]

The most common method of selective reduction—a procedure to reduce the number of fetuses in a multifetus pregnancy—is feticide via a chemical injection into the selected fetus or fetuses. The reduction procedure is usually performed during the first trimester of pregnancy.[19] It often follows detection of a congenital defect in the selected fetus or fetuses, but can also reduce the risks of carrying more than three fetuses to term.[20]

See also


  1. Definitions of feticide from
  2. Definition of feticide from Dorland’s Medical Dictionary.
  3. The Abortion (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2002 (Regulations for doctors giving an abortion)
  4. NRLC. State Homicide Laws That Recognize Unborn Victims (Fetal Homicide)
  5. National Conference of State Legislatures. (June 2006). "Fetal Homicide". Retrieved January 19, 2007.
  6. NRLC. Constitutional Challenges to State Unborn Victims (Fetal Homicide) Laws
  7. People v. Davis, 7 Cal.4th 797, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 50, 872 P.2d 591 (Calif. 1994).
  8. See, e.g., Women’s Medical Professional Corporation v. Taft (6th Cir. 2003).
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Knight, Bernard (1998). Lawyers guide to forensic medicine (2nd ed.). Routledge. pp. 70. ISBN 1859411592.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Child destruction: charge is rarely used". Daily Telegraph. 27 May 2007. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
  11. Britten, Nick (27 May 2007). "Jury convicts mother who destroyed foetus". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
  12. -Vause S, Sands J, Johnston TA, Russell S, Rimmer S. (2002). PMID 12521492 Could some fetocides be avoided by more prompt referral after diagnosis of fetal abnormality? J Obstet Gynaecol. 2002 May;22(3):243-5. Retrieved 17 March 2006.
    -Dommergues M, Cahen F, Garel M, Mahieu-Caputo D, Dumez Y. (2003). PMID 12576743 Feticide during second- and third-trimester termination of pregnancy: opinions of health care professionals. Fetal Diagn Ther. 2003 Mar-Apr;18(2):91-7. Retrieved 17 March 2006.
    -Bhide A, Sairam S, Hollis B, Thilaganathan B. (2002). PMID 12230443 Comparison of feticide carried out by cordocentesis versus cardiac puncture. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Sep;20(3):230-2. Retrieved 17 March 2006.
    -Senat MV, Fischer C, Bernard JP, Ville Y. (2003). PMID 12628271 The use of lidocaine for fetocide in late termination of pregnancy. BJOG. 2003 Mar;110(3):296-300. Retrieved 17 March 2006.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. ____ (2007). Retrieved 24 April 2007.
  14. Patricia Lee June (November 2001). A Pediatrician Looks at Babies Late in Pregnancy and Late Term Abortion. Presbyterians Pro-Life. Retrieved 2006-12-24. See footnote 44.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Haskell, Martin (13 September 1992). "Dilation and Extraction for Late Second Trimester Abortion". National Abortion Federation Risk Management Seminar. Dallas, Texas. Retrieved 2007-05-05.
  16. McDonald, Tim (Summer/Fall 2002). "When is a Fetus Old Enough to Need an Advocate?". Wabash Magazine. Retrieved 2007-05-11.
  17. Patricia Lee June (2001). See footnote 50.
  18. Jansen RP (1990). "Unfinished feticide". J Med Ethics 16 (2): 61–5. doi:10.1136/jme.16.2.61. PMC 1375929. PMID 2195170.
  19. Komaroff, Anthony. Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, page 913 (Simon and Schuster 1999): “Selective reduction is usually performed during the first trimester....”
  20. See, e.g., Berkowitz, Richard et al. "First-Trimester Transabdominal Multifetal Pregnancy Reduction: A Report of Two Hundred Completed Cases", American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Volume 169, page 17 (July 1993): "All of the procedures were performed in the first trimester by the transabdominal injection of potassium chloride into the thoraces of those fetuses that underwent feticide."


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