The New Jersey Supreme Court, in the case of Acuna v Turkish, last week refused to rule on the issue of when life begins in determining that a six to eight week old embryo is not considered a person under law.
In a case brought against an abortion doctor, Rose Acuna claimed that she had not been warned that she would be destroying a 'complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being' if she terminated her pregnancy. Ms Acuna brought a case of medical malpractice, wrongful death and emotional distress against her doctor, Sheldon Turkish, alleging that it was Mr Turkish's duty to have warned her that she would be murdering a family member.
In ruling against Ms Acuna, the court has refused to enter the debate on when life begins, a topic that has failed to gain a consensus in the medical community. The lack of a consensus on the point that an embryo becomes a human being led the court to rule that there was no legal requirement for a doctor to inform a patient that if she terminated a pregnancy she would be killing a person.
Justice Barry T. Albin wrote for the court that 'on the profound issue of when life begins, this court cannot drive policy in one particular direction by the engine of common law when the opposing sides, which represent so many of our citizens, are arrayed along a deep societal and philosophical divide'.
In the decision the court ruled that a six to eight week old embryo was not a person under the Fourteenth Amendment. Pro-life pressure groups had been hoping that the court would rule an embryo constituted a human being, thereby conferring it with all the rights and protection that status affords. Marie Tasy, from New Jersey Right to Life, criticised the ruling, insisting that the court was wrong to dispute the fact that a child in the womb was a human being. She stated that 'it is human from the minute it comes into existence, from the moment of conception'.
Meanwhile, pro-choice groups applauded the court's tolerant approach to reproductive rights. Ed Barocas, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the ruling 'sends a message that New Jersey will not tolerate backdoor efforts to curtail reproductive rights or free speech'.