Life and Death Before Birth: 4D Ultrasound and the Shifting Frontiers of the Abortion Debate

Journal of Law and Medicine, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 103-116, 2007

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 08/89

15 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2008  

Kristin L. Savell

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: August 11, 2008

Abstract

The development of 4D ultrasound technology has democratized fetal imagery by offering direct visual access to realistic images of the fetus in utero. These images, which purport to show a responsive being capable of complex behavior, have renewed debate about the personhood of the fetus and the adequacy of current abortion regulation. This article considers recent abortion law reform initiatives in the United Kingdom and the United States and observes two shifts in the frontiers of these debates. The first concerns a shift from viability to sentience as a criterion of legal significance. The second concerns a shift toward constructing abortion in terms of feticide as distinct from the termination of pregnancy. Both strategies seek to deploy morphological similarities between the sentient fetus and newborn baby as a basis for extending law's dominion over the fetus.

Keywords: Abortion, law reform initiatives, partial birth abortion, fetal imaging, fetal personhood, public debates

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Savell, Kristin L., Life and Death Before Birth: 4D Ultrasound and the Shifting Frontiers of the Abortion Debate (August 11, 2008). Journal of Law and Medicine, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 103-116, 2007; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 08/89. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1219085

Kristin L. Savell (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006
Australia

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