Keeping the Faith

When is a Foetus a Person? And Can it be Different for Different People?

What interesting paradoxes we are witnessing in Australia. Did you hear about how the Queensland Police Union has called for risk-taking pregnant women to be monitored in safe houses, particularly in cases where the unborn child is at risk of foetal alcohol syndrome and drug addictions? The submission to the Queensland Child Protection Inquiry says the law should be changed to protect the rights of unborn children to a “full life and health”.
“The state must have the ability to intervene and protect the unborn child when its mother refuses, or is incapable or unwilling to do so,” Union president Ian Leavers says in the submission.

Skip across to South Australia where there are moves to declare an unborn child a person after the tragic case of a pregnant woman and her unborn baby killed in a car accident. The male driver is charged with causing death by dangerous driving, driving unlicensed and leaving the scene of an accident. State MP Robert Brokenshire’s planned submission of a private member’s Bill to the South Australian parliament would change the legal status of a foetus to allow prosecution where the unborn child is harmed or killed.

A similar new law is set to be considered in NSW parliament. The proposed legislation will be called Zoe’s Law in memory of Brodie Donegal’s unborn child who was stillborn after a driver on drugs ran into the eight-month-pregnant woman on Christmas day, 2009. The driver was not charged for Zoe’s death because she was not recognised as a person and so spent nine months in prison for the charge of causing grievous bodily harm.

Then there was the Chrissie Swan fiasco. The celebrity radio presenter was caught having a stealthy ciggy in her car – a detail that invoked widespread commentary given that she is pregnant with her third child. A tearful Swan confessed to her nicotine habit during her popular Mix FM Melbourne radio show – and most of you will have seen some of the verbiage that has tumbled from the mouths of social commentators and Average Joes alike. Some were unforgiving, calling Swan selfish and uncaring. Others were more gracious, acknowledging the ‘sin’ of smoking during pregnancy while also applauding her honesty.

And we are waiting with baited breath for the meeting of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Commission in March to determine whether the abortion drug RU486 should be publically funded, making it available for around $12 instead of $300.

You may not think these things related, but there is one question that threads them all together.

When is a foetus a person?

And can it be different for different people?

Say a pregnant woman was on her way to an abortion clinic to have her pregnancy terminated when a drunk driver slammed into her car and caused her to have a miscarriage. Would the driver be charged with manslaughter for the unborn child’s death?

I find it baffling that we can judge a woman for smoking while pregnant, look at laws to enable manslaughter charges for killing the unborn and entertain the idea of safe houses for women unable or unwilling to care for their unborn child – all while ignoring a trend towards abortion as contraceptive.

This debate is good – I like it.

Let’s keep asking; when is a foetus a person?

And can it be different for different people?


As printed in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday February 18, 2013.


  1. Brilliant Claire..brilliant.

    I can see medically and even politically why a feotus can be only considered a person when it is born. It’s very easy to think that way when it’s theoretical.

    However, life isn’t all theoretical. The first time I saw a feotus that had been donated for scientific purposes and I saw the little fingers and little toes, the little nose and the little face…I could no longer call a feotus a feotus. No matter how small, they are babies. They are human.

    When I lost my two babies through miscarriage, no matter how I rationalise and minimalise my pain, sorrow came pouring out of my heart- that’s because little is never too little. Loosely quoting someone really wise- a mother’s love start from conception. I can attest to that. How can a mother grow love for something so small, something unseen, something so theoretical? Unless, the reason for the mother’s pain is because deep down, she knows a human (she would give her life to save) has just died.

    Well, people can say whatever they want to theoretically. I am thankful we are not all theory. We are flesh and bone and I believe foetuses are humans upon conception and nothing can convince my heart otherwise.

    If you are pro abortion, could I challenge to research abortion and look at some pictures or even videos of it (though it is a challenge I would never take up myself) and then decide for yourself.

    • I agree Wini – so important to be educated. There’s some great information for people considering abortion at too. Thanks for sharing x

  2. This is a great article. I find that many people these days have used the right to contraception as an excuse for abortion, in particular, the radical feminists (not the conservative ones). What do you think Claire?

    • Hi Jo, thanks for stopping by!
      Yes, I think feminism has a lot to answer for. I query feminism that is only concerned with the rights and choices of number one – without thought to the repercussions of our decisions on others (children, unborn babies, men, the family unit, community). I’m not against contraception but abortion is not that. Actually, stay tuned: next week’s column has a look at feminism – let me know what you think! 🙂

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