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The suffix -icide is added in place of fetus' last syllable. It derives back to occido, a Latin term meaning "to fell or to kill." Other examples include homicide, genocide, infanticide, matricide, and regicide.
Laws in the United States
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. 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.
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 38 states that recognize fetal homicide, approximately two-thirds apply the principle throughout the period of pre-natal development, while one-third 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. 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.
Fetal homicide laws, as well as ordinary murder statutes, are increasingly used to prosecute pregnant women accused of intentionally or recklessly causing miscarriages or stillbirths. According to the organization National Advocates for Pregnant Women, South Carolina, one of the first states to pass a feticide law, has charged only one man who assaulted a pregnant woman under this law, while approximately 300 women have been arrested. Widely publicized cases include that of Bei Bei Shuai, charged in 2011 by Indiana authorities with murder and feticide after her failed suicide attempt resulted in the death of the child she was pregnant with, and that of Rennie Gibbs, charged with murder in Mississippi in 2006 for having a stillborn daughter while addicted to cocaine.
In English law, "child destruction" is the crime of killing a child "capable of being born alive", before it has "a separate existence". The Crimes Act 1958 defined "capable of being born alive" as 28 weeks' gestation, later reduced to 24 weeks. The 1990 Amendment to the Abortion Act 1967 means a medical practitioner cannot be guilty of the crime.
The charge of child destruction is rare. A woman who had an unsafe abortion while 7½ months pregnant was given a suspended sentence of 12 months in 2007; the Crown Prosecution Service was unaware of any similar conviction.
Use during legal abortion
In medical use, the word "feticide" is used simply to mean causing the death of the fetus, usually prior to some form of abortion. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends feticide be performed "before medical abortion after 21 weeks and 6 days of gestation to ensure that there is no risk of a live birth". In abortions after 20 weeks, an injection of digoxin or potassium chloride to stop the fetal heart can be used to achieve feticide. 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. The possibility of unsuccessful feticide—resulting in birth of a live infant—is a malpractice concern.
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. 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.
- Definitions of feticide from dictionary.com.
- National Conference of State Legislatures. (June 2006). "Fetal Homicide". Retrieved January 19, 2007.
- Pilkington, Ed (June 24, 2011). "Outcry in America as pregnant women who lose babies face murder charges". The Guardian.
- People v. Davis, 7 Cal.4th 797, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 50, 872 P.2d 591 (Calif. 1994).
- Hedden, Andrew. When is the Death of a Fetus a Homicide? (Center for Homicide Research 2007).
- See, e.g., Women’s Medical Professional Corporation v. Taft (6th Cir. 2003).
- Knight, Bernard (1998). Lawyers guide to forensic medicine (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 70. ISBN 1-85941-159-2.
- "Child destruction: charge is rarely used". Daily Telegraph. 27 May 2007. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
- Britten, Nick (27 May 2007). "Jury convicts mother who destroyed foetus". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
- "3270 RCOG Abortion guideline.qxd" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-02-23.
- -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.
- Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. ____ (2007). Findlaw.com. Retrieved 24 April 2007.
- Jansen RP (1990). "Unfinished feticide". J Med Ethics 16 (2): 61–5. doi:10.1136/jme.16.2.61. PMC 1375929. PMID 2195170.
- Komaroff, Anthony. Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, page 913 (Simon and Schuster 1999): “Selective reduction is usually performed during the first trimester....”
- 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."