"The fetus survived"


Is it just me, or is the use of the words "fetus" and "baby" in stories about that bizarre Kansas case very confusing? Politics at work perhaps?

Meanwhile, why can't anyone nail down exactly how a tipster heard about the case and then immediately fingered a suspect? Are there many Internet chat rooms where people somehow disclose their fetus/baby-napping intentions?

Questions, questions.

NEXT: Retrenchment and Reform

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  1. Seems to me that if a fetus survives either an attempted abortion or kidnapping directly out of the womb, it has “become” a baby. We don’t call a prematurely delivered child a fetus, at least that I’ve heard. Politics is certainly at work – I’d guess media outlets that used “fetus” don’t want to get hassled by NARAL Pro-Choice America. Or those editors don’t believe in using “baby” or something else connotating protection under law unless the delivery is wanted by the mother.

  2. That is one gruisome crime. You gotta go through some serious gore to get a baby out that way.

  3. Agree with Greg. I have read a few articles and I definitely smell some unnatural word-twisting in order to avoid any hint of “the baby was a baby before it came out.” (Full disclosure–I freely confess to a little pro-life bias here, so I am over sensitive to this)
    I just have a hard time squaring even the most rabid pro-choice world view with this incident being referred to as “theft of a fetus.” Does anyone really think that the thief in this and other such cases didn’t think of this as kidnapping a baby/person and not theft of an object?

  4. Or instead of a “vast pro-choice conspiracy” it could be that the press has a hard time categorizing this because its a fucking strange incident.

  5. I think that no matter how they characterize the baby/fetus/insert-other-term-here, somebody will get upset.

    But mostly I agree with Gary: What is the precendent for describing something this weird?

  6. I’d have just used ‘baby’ the whole time. That’s what anyone who wants to keep theirs calls it, and even some who don’t. I don’t know what the motivations for the press using ‘fetus’ are, but I don’t see why they couldn’t use ‘stolen her unborn baby’. Maybe they’re just trying to be clever.

  7. It seems pro-“choice” people, who trade on the notion that birth is some sort of powerful event that changes a “fetus” into a “human being,” have to say something like this in order to stick with their story: “The assailant subdued the woman, delivered her fetus by means of a fatally injurious caesarian section, and kidnapped the baby, leaving the mother to die.”

    You know, in regard to abortion per se, I’m not as disgusted by women who want to kill their own fetus/baby/whosit as I am by all the magical thinkers who think that birth has some sort of awesome power to turn something without rights into something with rights. Of course, there are just as many people who think that conception has that awesome power. And almost everyone thinks that there is an event, death, that can change a body from something with rights back into something without rights. Does any of this count as reason?

  8. If I wasn’t completely jaded to the horrors of the world, I think I’d be rather upset about the fact that people seem to have no limits to what they’re willing to politicize.

    The entire debate is stupid. On both sides. A fetus and an unborn baby mean the same goddamn thing: an unborn young from the eighth week (in humans) to the moment of birth.

    It’s just that these terms have connotations to people whose first thought after the aliens land will be, “I wonder if they’re blue staters.” AKA, political perverts.

    Kindly adjust your tin foil hats so I know who you are.

  9. What is the precendent for describing something this weird?

    Calling it “a baby”, pretty much. If you met a woman who was 8 months pregnant, which would you ask her about — her “fetus”, or her “baby”?

  10. I believe this ties in to the Scott Peterson case, in which the press and the victim’s family missed no opportunity to discuss baby Conner, giving the fetus a name.

    Of course these cases expose the fuzzy thinking on the part of pro-choicers. Even if you support the right to abortion, nobody knows when life begins. It’s a fetus till some maniac (female, interestingly) tears open the womb? Then it’s suddenly a baby?

    None of us know the answer to that.

  11. fishfry,

    Its a fetus because that’s what it is technically called. I suspect the word is older in use than the abortion debate is, so it would be hard to pin its use on some “vast pro choice conspiracy.” If anything, in wanting blend together the terms “baby” and “fetus” its the anti-choice folks who are displaying fuzzy thinking.

  12. This is precisely why there will be no agreement on abortion for years (decades?) to come. We really don’t have a good operational definition of what a human being is. Much like the Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity (they know it when they see it), we all know a human being we see one. The trouble is, we don’t all see the same things.

    Perhaps someday we’ll have an acceptable defintion of human. But that day isn’t anywhere in sight yet.

  13. There is an inherently collectivist mindset regarding whether we consider a pre-born entity a “fetus” or a “baby.” Some apologists for abortion take the position that the product of a pregnancy isn’t human until and unless it is accepted into the human community. This leads to such moral pickles as Eggbert, due in 6 weeks, being considered a “baby” because his mom wants him, while Eggberta, conceived on the same day, is considered a “thing” because her mom wants to get rid of her. States which are trying to protect “fetal homicide laws” from constitutional challenge may rely on “intent of the mother” to support their position.

    As a libertatian, I find the dependence of a putatative individual’s personhood on the opinion of others to be scary. Better we had some rule, based on best science and philosophy, as to when human personhood begins. Fat chance of getting agreement on that, I’m afraid.


    …Macduff was from his mother’s womb Untimely ripp’d.
    Shakespeare, MacBeth Act V, scene vii

  14. I actually saw it the other way: a saying that the baby is a fetus is a push to give fetus’ more rights, not less.

  15. I find the dependence of a putatative individual’s personhood on the opinion of others to be scary. Better we had some rule, based on best science and philosophy, as to when human personhood begins.

    Have you considered the possiblity that the best science and philosophy aren’t going to give you a “rule” for when personhood begins, and that it is indeed irreducable opinion that comes into play.

    Science can certainly give you answers like when a zygote/fetus/unborn develops certain biological functions. Philosophy can begin to answer cognitive questions before it delves into socially relative matters. Neither of these is going to tell you, in the end, when a leg stops being a leg and starts being an ass.

  16. From dictionary.com:

    n. pl. fe?tus?es

    1. The unborn young of a viviparous vertebrate having a basic structural resemblance to the adult animal.
    2. In humans, the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo.

    unborn baby = fetus
    Much like vagina = pussy, homo sapien = human, etc. People don’t ask how someone’s fetus is doing because we don’t use technical terms all the time, newspapers often do. Just because you never hear people say they quaffed a beer or any beverage, doesn’t make it an inaccurate term.

  17. Technically, Gary is right, but the term ‘fetus’ is not typically used by anyone in the real world when they are describing or talking about being preggers. That’s why some of us see overt PC at work here when the media uses the term fetus. It’s sort of like using the term ‘handi-capable’ instead of ‘handicapped’. It might be technically correct but we know exactly why the term is used.

  18. Pavel, did you miss this?

    Fat chance of getting agreement on that, I’m afraid.

    My own preference would be for the law to stay out of decisions about ongoing pregnancies for some time after conception, but to begin protecting the unborn at some time prior to the normal delivery date. Picking a time X during that gestation period would be diffficult, but is it inherently unknowable? I’d focus on brain development, including the ability to feel pain. Thinking and feeling are what define us as human.


  19. I find the dependence of a putatative individual’s personhood on the opinion of others to be scary.

    Well, that’s always been the case though.

  20. Regarding the “informant”: My understanding is that they opened the victim’s computer, found recent emails from the perpetrator, one of which asked for directions to the victim’s home and specified the time the perpetrator would be calling. (The victim and her husband were offering dogs for sale on the internet which the perpetrator claimed an interest in. The website had a picture of the obviously pregnant victim.) From that point, the police traced the email through several providers until they came to the one that could identify the particular phone from whith the message had been sent. When the called at that home, the perpetrator was there with the baby. If this is true, then there needn’t have been an “informant.”

  21. Writing of “personhood”:


    ITHACA, N.Y. — Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

  22. The real issue is not when “life” begins: A fetus, even an embryo, has “life”, as surely as does a dog, a sprout of grass, an amoeba.

    Nor is the real issue whether the life is “human”: the fetus, even an embryo, is “human”, just as surely is each cell on my skin or yours, each hair on my body or yours.

    Nor need we debate whether a fetus is a “person”; the label is meaningless without reference to “rights”.

    The pro-choice advocates need not disparage the existence of rights in a fetus; the existence of same are not inconsistent with their position:

    All positions on the pro-choice vs. pro-life can agree that a fetus has rights, including a right to life, without contradiction. The real issue is whether any such right to life is subject to a natural right in the mother to terminate the pregnancy.

    Punishment of the perpetrator of this crime, or of the Peterson homicide, is not inconsistent with the pro-choice position: In neither case did the mother exercise her natural right of dominion over her body to terminate the pregnancy.

  23. I am not going to weigh in on the semantics of baby v. fetus. It is futile. It appears to me that both sides of the debate are trying to control the language to further control the debate. It is rather frightening to think that people seriously debate this tripe based upon a professed philosophy about the conception of life.

    I don’t know when life begins, but I am relieved that out of this tragedy, the family of the dead woman will not have to go to two funerals. Afterall, they found the baby alive. Who cares about whether the baby was a baby before or after the forced cesarean. I think that the law enforcement officers who found the child with only a scant description (blond person in a red car) and an anonymous tip should be congratulated for their efforts.

    And Gary Gunnels, I like the story that you posted, but it seems slightly funny (not haha funny) because I think that almost everyone would favor fewer rights for others and more rights for themselves. Using terrorism as a justification is what scares me, not the revelation that people don’t trust other people (which is essentially what the poll shows). The real troubling issue with the story is the lack of any link to the research, or even any hint of the science behind it. The hindustand times is a paper that has a large Muslim following and I would not doubt that a little “editorial discretion” took place in the coverage of this story.

  24. Politics at work perhaps?

    Sounds like it. Reminds me of the “homicide bomber” nonsense.

  25. Writing of “personhood”:


    ITHACA, N.Y. — Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

    Comment by: Gary Gunnels at December 19, 2004 04:20 AM

    This has already been debunked by Orin Kerr at http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2004_12_14.shtml#1103389852

    …It turns out that the pollsters asked people to agree or disagree with four statements:

    1) Muslim civic and volunteer organizations should be infiltrated by undercover law enforcement agents to keep watch on their activities and fundraising.
    2) U.S. government agencies should profile citizens as potential threats based on being Muslim or having Middle Eastern heritage.
    3) Mosques should be closely monitored and surveilled by U.S. law enforcement agencies.
    4) All Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts with the federal government.

    For each of these statements, between 20 and 30 percent of the subjects agreed; most disagreed. Overall, the study reports, 29% of the subjects agreed with 2 or more of these statements, and 15% agreed with one of them. (Some of these numbers don’t quite add up, I think, but see page 6 of the report for the figures.)

    I don’t want to be nitpicky, but am I right in thinking that a certain amount of spin is involved in how this poll is being reported?…

    Interesting how 20%-30% “agree” with some of the statments gets inflated to “44% of racist Americans want to curtail civil liberties of Muslim Americans.”

    As ACLU President Nadine Strossen pointed out in an interview in Reason (October 1994):

    our view has never been that civil liberties are necessarily coextensive with constitutional rights. Conversely, I guess the fact that something is mentioned in the Constitution doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a fundamental civil liberty.

    Besides, as a taxpayer (and holder of a gun license and driver license), I’m reqired to register my whereabouts with the government. What’s the big deal? Maybe we should just abort^H^H^H^H^H choice all of the Muslim non-baby fetuses, and the problem of radical Islamo-fascism terrorists will go away in a generation.

  26. Nobody Important,
    I read that Orin Kerr bit. I don’t know about you, but I pretty disturbed that 3 in 10 Americans want to force Muslims to register their whereabouts with the federal government. So it’s a slight distortion, but still a disheartening poll.

    I wonder what the numbers for the internment camps are nowadays. Back in 10-01 I think it was about 40ish percent. Actually, nevermind, I don’t think I want to know.

    Speaking of the ACLU, did you read the gem above it at volokh?

    The American Civil Liberties Union is using sophisticated technology to collect a wide variety of information about its members and donors in a fund-raising effort that has ignited a bitter debate over its leaders’ commitment to privacy rights.


  27. Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of ALL AMERICANS.

    Restricting civil liberties is another thing, like Social Security and smoking bans, that has “broad support among the public”.

    Frighten people enough or promise them enough free money and you can forget about freedom.

  28. Nor need we debate whether a fetus is a “person”; the label is meaningless without reference to “rights”. Peter K.

    Actually, using “person” and “personhood” is important, because that is the term we use in the Constitution for rights-holders. It would be honest if pro-choicers – and I count myself among them, if not among the extreme of that faction – would say “an unborn child may have some rights, but the mother’s privacy-right trumps all other interests when it comes to the abortion question.” That they don’t do that isn’t hard to understand. Winning a debate where rights-holding mommy is pitted against a non-rights-holding thing is easier than winning a “clash of rights.”

    But when we consider these:

    …nor shall any person…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;… Amendment 5

    ….nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;… Amendment 14

    if and when the pre-born human conceptus is considered a “person” it can’t have its life ended without due process.

    That these are enumerated rights, while Roe v. Wade depends on unenumerated rights, penumbras, etc., might lead one to believe that a case or amendment that recognized that a fetus was a person would put “abortion rights” in an inferior position.


  29. Kevrob, I’m glad you’re implying that arguing over whether a fetus is a human being is a pretty moot argument – I mean, if a successfully delivered baby to a 108-year-old on his deathbed is a human being, it’s pretty medically disingenuous to claim that a fetus, which is different in no fundamental way except in stage of development, is not. Slate’s Will Saletan has written intelligently on this. But the entire personhood concept seems to me just a way to limit rights for groups that we don’t really like. It was applied at one time to black slaves, and I think eventually just as we accepted them fully under the protection of law, a future generation will see the fundamental injustice of excluding humans in the womb as “persons.” It would be great if ectogenesis made the entire abortion debate obsolete, but until then I guess we’ll argue about personhood and rights.

  30. Bizarre as this story is, I seem to recall reading of another incident of “prenatal kidnapping” within the past few years. Can anybody out there confirm that, and/or recall the particulars?

  31. From the linked story:

    “Although cases of abducted fetuses are highly unusual, there are some on record. Last year an Oklahoma woman, later found incompetent to stand trial, was accused of shooting and killing a woman and taking her six-month-old fetus, which later died.

    “In 2000, according to the police in Ravenna, Ohio, a woman named Michelle Bica invited a pregnant acquaintance to her home, shot her to death and removed her fetus. The fetus survived, but Ms. Bica committed suicide as police officers approached her home.”

  32. Other than ratifying Gary Gunnels’ comment (“the press has a hard time categorizing this because it’s a fucking strange incident”) I would point out that using the word “fetus” avoids the following type of ambiguity:

    “The suspect is alleged to have killed the pregnant victim and absconded with her baby.”

    (It’s unclear here whether “baby” means unborn or previously-delivered child. Using the term “fetus” resolves the ambiguity.)

  33. Doug,

    Disgusted though you may be, birth does confer rights on the child. When it is dependent on the mother’s body for its life, it has no claim to the mother’s body by right. Does the mother own her body or not? If a baby has a claim on the mother’s body by right, then by what magic does that claim end at birth? Does the baby have a right to one of the mother’s kidneys?

  34. Phil, think about what you are saying. This little girl was never born. Therefore, she should never acquire rights as a human being?

    While we all disagree as to whether or not a fetus should be deemed a person as soon as it can live outside the womb, is it too much to ask that we all agree it’s a person once it does?

  35. I live in KC,MO and the story hit here a few hours before the AP/Internet postings took off.

    But, what I think is interesting, from what I’ve heard, the woman, to date, is being charged with KIDNAPPING. (No doubt this is due to the need to investigate further before the murder of the mother charges are laid).

    But, in the context of this post/comments, I think the fact that a KIDNAPPING claim is being made is telling.

    Can you (legally) kidnap a “fetus”? or only a child/human being? Is there a separate crime for cutting the fetus/baby from the womb (i.e., practicing “medicine” without a license)?

    Interesting indeed.

  36. ….a fetus, which is different in no fundamental way except in stage of development…. Greg

    For some significant period of time between conception and birth there is a significant difference between L’il Eggbert and Great-Grampa Bert on his deathbed. Bert – unless he is what we call “brain dead” – is a thinking, feeling being. Once we are convinced that Grampa’s brain functions are so damaged that his mind is forever gone we can start enquiring of his family whether he had opinions about organ donation, etc. It isn’t his beating heart or breathing lungs, assisted by technology or not, that determine his status as a living human. Some religious groups may disagree, of course.

    Pinpointing a stage of development where the brain has kicked in enough so we can refer to a fetus as a person is beyond my meager expertise, but I think that’s the question we should be asking. This would probably result in a window for legal abortion most pro-choicers would find too small, while the pure pro-lifers would consider anything past the point of conception unacceptable. The law can’t take into account Thomastic pilpul about “ensoulment,” after all.

    That kidnapped child was too “born.” The DIY Caesarian was unimaginably cruel and disgusting, but under current law, if 100% of you can make it out of the womb with an uncrushed skull, you are a person.


  37. gurrg.. ck.. ck.. guurrrrrrgg..


  38. waaaaaaaah..hh..hhh..hk..hk..wwwaaark..waaak..


  39. This crime is beyond my comprehension. (The “crime” of debasing the language, which normally would draw my outrage, pales in comparison.) I’m glad the father got his baby back, but what a sorrowful way to begin a life. I hope the two of them have much better fortunes from now on.

  40. I guess it’s unrealistic to expect the media to show some restraint here, but jesus.. this is the message I’m getting:

    “Lunatic cuts out living baby out of murdered woman. Oh, by the way.. Merry Christmas!”

  41. Of course, there are just as many people who think that conception has that awesome power [i.e., the power “to turn something without rights into something with rights”].

    Conception, unlike birth, doesn’t just move the subject from one location to another, nor does it “turn something without rights into something with rights.” What it does is cause “something” to come into existence (possessing rights, of course) that didn’t exist before at all. The pre-conception egg and sperm obviously had no rights, but the conceptus is a fundamentally different “something” — the same “something” that emerges from the womb nine months later.

    To find it strange that conception suddenly causes something to exist that possesses rights is as silly as it would be to find it strange that when non-crystalline sodium ions are combined with non-crystalline chloride ions, a substance suddenly comes to exist that has the form of a crystal. In both cases, what has come to exist is a different “something” from what existed before, so of course it will have different properties.

  42. The pre-conception egg and sperm obviously had no rights, but the conceptus is a fundamentally different “something” — the same “something” that emerges from the womb nine months later.

    It is most certainly NOT the same thing that comes out of the womb nine months later. It is one cell; what comes out of the womb is a complex organism. Saying that a fertilized egg is the same thing as a baby is like saying that a brick is the same thing as a house. It clearly isn’t. A fertilized egg is something which has the *potential* to build a baby if you give it the proper environment and enough food, but it has a pretty lousy success rate at doing so (only 50%-75% when you count spontaneous abortions and miscarriages).

    It is also unclear why you think it is “obvious” that sperm and eggs cells have no rights, which fertilized eggs do.

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