After the 1973 Roe decision, anti-abortion groups responded with a strategic plan to reverse the decision and recriminalize abortion through laws that seek to codify the belief that life begins at conception. Some of these criminal statutes create a new crime for causing a pregnancy loss by injuring a pregnant person, and others expand the definitions of “person” or “another” to include zygotes, embryos, and fetuses under existing criminal codes for murder, manslaughter, or related charges. The majority of them apply from conception or another early stage of pregnancy until birth.
Championed as a way to protect pregnant people from violence, anti-abortion groups advocated for these laws by highlighting a tragic case in which a person lost a pregnancy as a result of another’s actions. In reality, these laws were attempting to normalize “fetal personhood.” Rather than protecting pregnant people, they have been used to criminalize pregnant people for the loss of their own pregnancy.
This issue brief summarizes laws, currently in effect in 38 states, authorizing homicide charges for causing pregnancy loss (fetal homicide laws). It outlines the different forms they take and how the laws’ language treat zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as human beings — a concept much more threatening to the health and wellbeing of people with the capacity for pregnancy now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned.