High Court Rules on Definition

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The Mississippi Supreme Court held Thursday that an unborn fetus is a "person'' under state law and wrongful death claims can be filed on its behalf.

The justices upheld a Bolivar County woman's right to pursue a wrongful death claim after she alleged emotional distress and a mistake by her doctors caused her to have a miscarriage. The fetus was 19 weeks old at the time.

Presiding Justice Chuck McRae, in a written dissent, described the decision as an assault on Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion in America. McRae said the decision will only create more confusion in the courts.

The opinion noted that six other states have a similar wrongful death provision but did not name the states.

The 6-2 ruling expands the definition of a "person'' in wrongful death statutes to include an "unborn child.''

Current law allows people to sue for the wrongful death of a newly born, or prematurely born, fetus that would have been expected to live.

Presiding Justice Jim Smith, writing for the court, said the ruling in the lawsuit brought by Tracy Tucker had nothing to do with abortion. He said doctors performing abortions are still protected by Mississippi law.

According to Smith, what the decision does is extend the right to file a lawsuit under the wrongful death statute to cover unborn fetuses.