A Troubling Court Decision for Reproductive Rights: Legal Recognition of Fetal Standing to Sue

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Abortion remains one of the most divisive controversies in the United States, and few states restrict the practice more than Alabama. In 2018, Alabama voters passed an amendment to the state’s constitution that “recognize[s] and support[s] the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.” Kansas, Missouri, and Louisiana have enacted similar language into their constitutions. These clauses variously classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as “persons” entitled to unspecified legal protections from the moment of conception. They have the potential for sweeping consequences. It is unclear whether and how these measures would lead to criminal penalties against pregnant women for activities like drug use that risk harming the fetus, as well as prohibitions on in vitro fertilization (IVF), stem cell research, or other practices that involve the destruction of human embryos.

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JAMA. Published online May 22, 2019