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MA Supreme Court Rules Killing a 'Viable' Unborn Baby Is Homicide, Affirms Their Legal Right to Life

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that someone who kills an unborn baby capable of living outside of the mother's body can be charged with homicide since that child is considered a person under state law. 

In Commonwealth v. Ronchi, the highest state court in Massachusetts recently upheld two first-degree murder convictions of a man who stabbed his girlfriend to death which also caused the death of their nine-month unborn child. The defendant argued that since he had not actually stabbed the baby, he should not be held responsible for its death. 

However, the court rejected this argument and held that "infliction of prenatal injuries resulting in the death of a viable fetus, before or after it is born, is homicide." 

slider img 2The Massachusetts high court upheld the two consecutive life sentences that a lower court had given the defendant, agreeing with the trial court's instructions to the jury which included: "Killing is not murder unless a human being has been killed. A viable fetus is a human being under the law of homicide. A fetus is viable when there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus's sustained survival outside the womb, with or without artificial support."

The Bay State's highest court followed its precedent in a 1984 case Commonwealth v. Cass in which a driver was convicted of motor vehicle homicide after his vehicle struck a woman who was eight and a half months pregnant, resulting in the death of her child. 

In that case, the court decided that "infliction of prenatal injuries resulting in the death of a viable fetus, before or after it is born, is homicide. … We believe that our criminal law should extend its protection to viable fetuses." 

Even though the court used the word "child" to refer to the unborn baby in its recent ruling in Commonwealth v. Ronchi, in its 1981 decision in Moe v. Secretary of Administration and Finance, the same court recognized a "fundamental right of choice" when it comes to abortion, and that the state constitution "affords a greater degree of protection to the right" than previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions of the time. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, "Abortion has distorted the law. It makes perfect sense to charge a person with murder who kills an unborn child. It makes no sense to call this 'choice' when the mother does the killing. Homicide can only be committed against a person – a human being. Homicide cannot be committed against property or a non-person."

"Plain and simple – abortion is homicide because the act of killing the child is the same whether it is done by a violent actor or a doctor in a white lab coat," Staver added. 

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's opinion adds to the growing national debate about the inherent rights of unborn persons. That question continues to be raised now that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last June. The 1973 landmark decision legalized abortion nationwide for nearly 50 years. 

Currently, in Massachusetts, abortion is legal through 24 weeks. After that, "only if it is necessary, in the best medical judgment of the physician, to preserve the life of the patient, if it is necessary, in the best medical judgment of the physician, to preserve the patient's physical or mental health or, in the best medical judgment of the physician, an abortion is warranted because of a lethal fetal anomaly or the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus." 

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