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Is a Fetus a Person? The Next Big Abortion Fight Centers on Fetal Rights

Anti-abortion demonstrators outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Anti-abortion demonstrators outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg
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Personhood -- the concept of granting legal rights to the unborn at conception or a couple of months after -- is shaping into the next battleground in the fight over abortion rights in the US. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s June decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion, old state rules recognizing fetuses as people have new potency, and conservative state legislatures are pushing for powerful new statutes. Critics of these so-called personhood laws worry they will be used not only to criminalize abortion but also miscarriages, the termination of pregnancies that threaten the mother’s life, and some types of contraception.

Abortion bans clamp down on the practice, while personhood laws regulate pregnancy much more broadly. The latter grant a fetus, the developmental stage that begins eight weeks after conception, or a zygote or embryo, the two earlier stages, the same legal rights as a person, including the right to life.