History shows that such laws would have dangerous, even deadly consequences. If fetal personality is recognized, pregnant women and other pregnant people will lose control over decisions related to their pregnancies and will be forced to accept medical interventions against their will.
Fetal personality claims – the notion that the fetus has rights similar to an already born child – originated in the mid-19th century, when Boston physician Horatio Storer led the first movement to criminalize abortion at the level of State. Storer and his supporters labeled fetuses as children and framed abortion as murder and the women who underwent the procedure as butchers in need of strong patriarchal guidance. Around 1900, the next generation of abortion opponents—white, male, and Catholic—began to invoke the right to life of fetuses. In the early 1960s, they explicitly tied this claim to the Declaration of Independence. A few years later, as they rallied to end the liberalization of abortion laws in states across the country, anti-abortion activists expanded their movement by reaching out to evangelical Christians to help them gain the citizenship of the “unborn”.
Also in the 1960s, state interventions in medicine accelerated in the name of fetal protection. In 1964, a court in New Jersey and another in the District of Columbia ordered pregnant Jehovah’s Witnesses with viable fetuses to undergo blood transfusions which they refused on religious grounds. Doctors anticipated that the New Jersey woman would need a transfusion and obtained a court order in preparation. The pregnant woman in Washington needed several transfusions immediately.
A case from 1986 clearly highlights the violence inherent in the claim of fetal personality and court-ordered medical care. Aged 19 and pregnant for the first time, Ayesha Madyun walked into DC General Hospital one day in the summer of 1986 with her husband, Mustafaa. Her waters had broken two days earlier, but without health insurance, Ayesha had been bedridden at home until severe contractions began.
At 11 a.m. that morning, Ayesha was seven centimeters dilated and expressed her desire to give birth vaginally. She showed no signs of infection and her fetus showed no signs of distress. Nine hours later, his work was at a standstill. Mustafaa Madyun believes it was because medical staff confined his wife to bed in a supine position, refusing her to walk or even sit up and kept her strapped to a fetal heart rate monitor.
Resident chief obstetrics and gynecologist John Cummings started his shift that evening and became responsible for Madyun’s care. Alarmed to learn that her waters had broken 65 hours earlier and her temperature was 99 degrees (possibly indicating impending infection), Cummings worried about fetal sepsis and urged her to consent to a caesarean section. She refused. Without a clear indication that her fetus was at risk, she preferred to continue working without intervention.
Insisting that Madyun have a C-section immediately but unable to persuade her to do so, Cummings and the hospital turned to the courts. DC Superior Court Judge on duty that night, Richard A. Levie, rushed to the hospital to hold an emergency hearing. The lawyer representing the Madyuns had less than 30 minutes to question his clients and no time to consult Ayesha Madyun’s medical file before the start of the hearing at midnight. The legal proceedings took place outside his room, preventing him from participating.
At 1:05 a.m., Levie ordered Ayesha Madyun to undergo an immediate C-section. “It’s one thing for an adult to play with nature in his own life; it’s another when the bet involves the life or death of an unborn child,” he said. Two appeal judges upheld the order by telephone an hour later. At 3:30 a.m., Madyun delivered a healthy six-and-a-half-pound baby, Ishaan, by Caesarean section. She compared the operation to rape.
Madyun’s case was not the first of its kind and, like the previous ones, it too received little public attention. Dozens of American women were forced to undergo court-ordered Caesarean sections in the late 20th century. (The practice sometimes still occurs today.) An article from the New England Journal of Medicine published in May 1987 identified 21 forced obstetrical interventions between 1982 and 1987, of which 15 were Caesarean sections. Doctors and hospitals won 18 of the 21 claims. Not surprisingly, 81% of the women involved in these struggles were women of color. Twenty-four percent were non-English speakers.
In many cases of forced caesarean section, obstetricians, hospital administrators or social workers obtained custody of the fetus – while still inside its mother – and used their new authority to compel the pregnant women to undergo surgery on behalf of their service. The court orders expired immediately after the birth, at which time the mothers were awarded custody of their newborn babies.
Following Madyun’s operation, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) ethics committee raised concerns about court-ordered obstetric procedures. He wrote a position paper on maternal-fetal conflict that encouraged physicians to respect patient autonomy and avoid taking disputes between physicians and patients to court.
It wasn’t long before another dramatic case made headlines across the country and showed the deadly consequences of forced caesarean sections. But rather than pit doctor against patient, this time doctors and ACOG defended the right of pregnant women to refuse treatment.
After surviving two terrible bouts of cancer, 27-year-old Angela Carder had recently married and she and her husband, Rick, were expecting their first child in September 1987. Carder’s cancer was gone, as were her left leg and part of her pelvis, but after six years of uncertainty, the couple finally felt confident about their future. In May, her breathing became labored and her left shoulder began to ache. Her doctors suspected fluid on her lungs or bronchitis, both treatable conditions. But Carder knew otherwise. Twenty-six weeks pregnant, she underwent tests at the George Washington University Medical Center. Two days later, a CT scan confirmed Carder’s hunch: a cancerous tumor covered 80% of his right lung.
Carder’s condition deteriorated rapidly. When hospital administrators learned she was days away from death and her family had refused a post-mortem C-section, they contacted their lawyer. Aware of Madyun’s forced C-section, the hospital’s lawyer feared the institution had an obligation to save the fetus before Carder died. He requested an emergency hearing.
Eight hours later, over objections from Carder, his family and his doctors, Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered him to undergo surgery immediately. Carder’s doctor refused to perform the operation without his consent; the hospital scrambled to find a surgeon willing to cut. Born at 26 1/2 weeks gestation with severely underdeveloped lungs, Lindsay Marie Carder lived only two hours. Angie Carder died two days later.
In cases like Carder’s, legal experts have weighed pregnant women’s right to reproductive autonomy against the fetus’ right to life — a right no fetus legally has — and judges have ruled. in favor of the fetus. Sometimes the hospital lawyers and judges who ordered the surgery quoted deerclaiming that the landmark decision’s emphasis on viability supported surgery to “save” the fetus from its mother: if deer recognized state interest in the viable fetus, they argued, then courts should insist that pregnant women accept medical advice intended to protect their pregnancy.
Angie Carder’s parents successfully appealed the court order for her C-section with help from Lynn Paltrow and the American Civil Liberties Union. In D AC (1990) enabled family members of incapable patients to make medical decisions on their behalf and upheld a patient’s right “to accept or refuse medical treatment”. He has drastically reduced the practice of court-ordered C-sections, but he won’t be able to delay efforts to force pregnant women to accept medical interventions, including blood transfusions and C-sections, if personality fetus becomes a reality. legal.