It's no secret that our current laws are inconsistent when it comes to the legal status of fetuses. For example, Kansas law declares the terms "person" and "human being"--as used in laws that define murder, manslaughter, and so forth--to include an unborn child. California penal code draws a distinction between "human being" and "fetus", but defines murder to include the unlawful killing of either a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought. New York, on the other hand, has no separate laws for the death of a fetus. In other words, in some states killing a pregnant woman can mean two separate charges--one for the woman and one for the fetus--whereas in other states it is legally equivalent to killing anyone else.
If society consistently acknowledged that human beings begin as zygotes, how would this alter our laws? We tend to focus on how such an understanding would change abortion-related law, but what about other laws? Our detractors will sometimes insist that if the fetus is a "person," women can be charged with child abuse for smoking while pregnant, or manslaughter for a miscarriage. I've also heard less extreme suggestions, such as being able to claim fetuses as dependents on tax returns, or leave property to fetuses in living wills.
Some of these ideas are, I think, pretty simplistic, in that they seem to imply that acknowledging the fetus is a human being prevents us from acknowledging any other circumstances unique to pregnancy. I see no reason why we can't acknowledge both.
However other ideas don't seem so far-fetched. Why, after all, shouldn't you be able to claim a fetus as a dependent? Even before birth you have increased expenses as a result of caring for the fetus. Why shouldn't you be able to collect different or increased state benefits when you are pregnant? Seems to me increased support for pregnant women would be helpful to maternal and fetal life anyway.
What do you think the non-abortion-related implications would be if we legally recognized fetuses as persons?