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Domestic violence, pregnant women and restraining orders

The status of unborn children has been deeply controversial in American life for at least a generation. After all, it was in 1973 that the U.s. Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion under certain circumstances.

Thirty years later, state laws on the protection of fetuses vary widely. In New Jersey, a court ruled earlier this month on the question of restraining orders involving unborn children in domestic violencecases.

The case raised the question of whether a pregnant woman can lawfully obtain a restraining order to protect a child who is still in her womb. The judge acknowledged that fetuses do not have rights under New Jersey law. But the judge nonetheless held that, after experiencing domestic violence, a woman who is pregnant can be granted a restraining order for the child, to take effect upon the child's birth.

The case that gave rise to the ruling concerned a teenage couple who could not agree on whether to keep a child.  The 18-year-old male attacked the 17-year-old pregnant female. Other attackers were involved as well. It is unclear from the case whether the fetus was harmed in the attack.

Anti-abortion advocates welcomed the judge's decision that a pregnant woman may be able to get a restraining order on behalf of a child who is not yet born. But the judge's reasoning did not really break new philosophical ground on the rights of the unborn. The ruling was largely based, rather, on the specific context of domestic violence cases.

Source: "Women can seek restraining orders for unborn children, N.J. court rules," Star-Ledger, Salvador Rizzo, 5-3-13

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