Clinton Rule Attempted to Alter Definitions of 'Fetus' and 'Child'

By Jason Pierce | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - Pro-life organizations are fired up over a pending federal regulation, devised during the last days of the Clinton administration, that could, according to critics, redefine the terms "fetus" and "child" and result in the legal use of newborns for scientific research.

The regulation, which was cleared by the Clinton administration on January 17, but then postponed by the Bush administration, states that a newborn is still considered a "fetus" until it is determined the baby will live by "independently maintaining a heartbeat and respiration." Only when this determination is made is the baby considered a "child," according to the rule.

When the Bush Administration took office, it immediately placed a 60-day moratorium on the implementation of Clinton's fetus rule as well as many others. The moratorium expired March 19, but last week, a group of pro-life congressmen managed to convince Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to extend the moratorium on the fetus rule by another 60 days.

Reps. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), James Barcia (D-Mich.) and Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) now find themselves at the center of the controversy, following their letter to Thompson.

"If this rule is allowed to proceed, the position of the federal Department of Health and Human Services with regard to 'human research subjects' will be that babies born alive are not necessarily children," the congressmen wrote. "This cannot and should not be the position of an agency tasked with defending children and protecting life."

An HHS spokesman declined to comment on the rule when contacted by, saying it is under review.

Although the regulation has not yet taken effect, some pro-life organizations believe the four congressmen could have done more to block it permanently.

"It shouldn't take 60 days to see how bad this is, it only took me forty-five minutes," said American Life League Spokesman Patrick Delaney. "And the curious lack of fundamental ethical standards is directly reminiscent of the Nazi doctors."

Delaney said the regulation degrades humans to the point of treating them like specimens for research.

"I personally can't help but to be reminded of the Nazi doctors who determined human persons as experimental guinea pigs," Delaney said. "These regulations seem to be no different and these so-called regulations are a semantic rationalization for murdering innocent human beings."

Delaney said pro-life voters elected President Bush in hopes that his administration would revoke such regulations left over from the Clinton administration. However, President Bush has been disappointing in this area, Delaney said.

"It seems to us that repeal of these regulations is a no-brainer and the hesitation of the Bush administration in only issuing a sixty-day extension is outrage in itself," he said. "We believe in order for politicians like Tommy Thompson and George W. Bush to claim that title of pro-life, they need to respect personhood of a child beginning from conception.

"If they don't, it is our opinion they would have no claim to say they are pro-life," Delaney said.

Other groups are equally determined to get the Bush administration to rid the federal books of similar regulations.

Michael Schwartz, Vice President of Concerned Women for America zeroed in on the regulation's attempt to redefine the terms, fetus and child.

"What really is of concern here are definitions. You don't pass laws embodying definitions. A law is supposed to be a directive," Schwartz said. "To try to find a legislative fix to a definitional problem is the wrong thing to do unless we can connect it to some comprehensive, ... protective law for human research."

Schwartz added that the fetus regulation was actually proposed in 1997, "but like so many things, it slipped people's attention until right before it was supposed to be enacted."

According to a summary, the proposed HHS rule is intended to "provide additional protections for pregnant women and human fetuses involved in research?[and] enhance the opportunity for participation of pregnant women in research."