Bearing witness? The question of foetal personhood in response to pregnancy loss

Emily Cachia*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In this article, I explore the category of foetal personhood recently considered by the Parliament of New South Wales in response to pregnancy loss and trauma. My aim is to provide a feminist analysis of the way that responsibility is tendered by the State, by the social body and by individual subjects for an experience of loss that is specific to sexual difference. Informed by Emmanuel Levinas’ idea of the ethical responsibility the subject has to preserve the other’s alterity, I argue that foetal personhood legislation is ultimately an irresponsible form of testimony insofar as it collapses the other into the same. Luce Irigaray’s work on sexual difference and the self-centred logic of a symbolic economy implicitly figured through the male body is also central to this discussion, alongside other feminist analyses of gendered and maternal embodiment. Locating foetal personhood within a concern for grievability and considering the question of whether some bodies are more publicly grievable than others, I conclude that foetal personhood ultimately refuses to witness the other in her difference.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-291
Number of pages16
JournalAustralian Feminist Studies
Issue number93
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Bearing witness? The question of foetal personhood in response to pregnancy loss'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this