The debate over fetal rights is not new to the legislative arena. Every session, pro-life and pro-choice advocates garner support for policies around this issue. The debate concerning “fetal homicide” hinges on the issue of fetuses killed by violent acts against pregnant women. Pro-life advocates typically support legislation that defines the fetus as a person under fetal homicide laws, or otherwise confers rights or protections upon the fetus or unborn child. Common references to such laws include the Fetal Protection Act, the Preborn Victims of Violence Act and the Unborn Victim of Violence Act. Those supporting these laws say that both the lives of the pregnant woman and the fetus should be explicitly protected. They assert that fetal homicide laws justly criminalize these cases and address both unborn children and their mothers.
Pro-choice advocates typically focus on the harm done to a pregnant woman and the subsequent loss of her pregnancy, but not on the rights of the fetus. They tend to support policies that do not confer rights or personhood status upon a fetus. Such advocates focus on enhancing penalties for an assault on a pregnant woman and recognizing her as the victim. For the purposes of this webpage, NCSL describes these types of legislation as “penalty-enhancement for crimes against pregnant women.” These are described and listed towards the bottom of this webpage. This webpage is intended to include a range of legislation on this issue and is not intended to serve as a source for legal definitions.
State Fetal Homicide Laws
Currently, at least 38 states have fetal homicide laws: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. At least 29 states have fetal homicide laws that apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy ("any state of gestation/development," "conception," "fertilization" or "post-fertilization"); these are indicated below with an asterisk (*).
The box allows you to conduct a full text search or use the dropdown menu option to select a state.
* Indicates states that have fetal homicide laws that apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy ("any state of gestation," "conception," "fertilization" or "post-fertilization").
** Massachusetts established fetal homicide/manslaughter laws only through case law, not through legislation.
Sources: National Conference of State Legislatures and StateNet
Note: List may not be comprehensive, but is representative of state laws that exist. NCSL appreciates additions and corrections.
State Penalty-enhancement Laws for Crimes Against Pregnant Women
At least eight states--Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming--have penalty-enhancement laws for crimes against pregnant women. These laws are considered different than fetal homicide laws because they do not create a separate criminal charge for the loss of the fetus. The laws in these states consider the loss of or harm to a fetus in relation to the pregnant woman or her pregnancy. Depending on interpretation, some entities may view the scope of this issue differently. This webpage is intended to include a range of legislation on this issue and is not intended to serve as a source for legal definitions.
Pro-Choice and Pro-Life Organizations
Note: NCSL provides links to other websites for information purposes only. Providing these links does not indicate NCSL's support or endorsement of the site.