Can a Fetus Like Laci's Sue?

Mothers could be the target of wrongful death lawsuits by the fathers and relatives of the unborn, especially if their behavior was deemed questionable during pregnancy. If the father of the fetus or other relatives believe the mother didn't take proper care of herself, saw her smoke or drink, or perhaps eat poorly, they theoretically could hold her responsible for the stillbirth.

The courts and state legislatures may not be prepared to handle this kind of scenario.

"I've never heard of a case like that, but it would be interesting to see," said the NRLC's Johnson. "I don't think the legislatures would look forward to confronting a case like that."

Some state laws protect mothers from wrongful death lawsuits involving the unborn, which has sparked criticism that fetal rights tend to give women special legal status and violates the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. However, fetal rights have not shielded women entirely.

According to the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and the ACLU, women in 30 states have been prosecuted in criminal courts for fetal abuse for taking drugs during their pregnancy. In June 2001, a South Carolina jury made Regina Knight the first woman to be convicted of homicide for killing an unborn child through drug use.

Experts say that fetus protection and fetus litigation laws are needed, even if they do not foresee all circumstances.

"No one ever wants to question the actions of a parent, because people should be free to raise their children the way they want," said Weber. "But you need abuse laws to protect the children.

"People should also want these laws for a very practical consideration," Weber said. "If you have a doctor who is not sure the baby is going to make it [through the pregnancy] and knows, in the back of his mind, that he can be sued if child comes out of the womb [alive] and then dies. But he can avoid the whole thing if he waits [and the child is stillborn]. You hate to think that way, but you have to question why that thought is in the doctor's head."

Despite opposition, no state fetal homicide statute has ever been successfully challenged. However, some wrongful death claims on behalf of fetuses have been overturned.

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