July 5, 2022

Rare, but regular: the horrific crime of foetal abduction

Even though perpetrators are always caught

It is the rarest of the rarest crimes, but it happens: foetal abduction. Earlier this month, 9-months-pregnant Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, a 19-year-old Chicago woman, went to investigate an offer on Facebook of free baby clothes. When she arrived, 46-year-old Clarisa Figueroa and her 24-year-old daughter, Desiree, strangled her and cut her baby from her womb.

A few hours later the baby stopped breathing. Figueroa rang police for help and they rushed her to a hospital. After Marlen’s body was discovered, police eventually arrested Figueroa and her daughter, who were charged with first-degree murder. The baby is in a serious condition.  

The Chicago police and the state department of children and family services said that hospital staff did not alert them after determining that Figueroa had not given birth to the newborn child.

Kenna Quinet, of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, told the Chicago Tribune that foetal abductions happened about once a year in the United States and show no sign of increasing. They are as illogical as they are horrific, as the assailant is always discovered.

“If you consider an extremely rare event of the millions of women a year who are pregnant, there would be no way as individual people that we could take this risk to zero,” she said. “I think it’s as low as we can hope for it to be.”

Ann Wolbert Burgess, a professor of psychiatric nursing at Boston College, sees two primary motives for the woman: drawing attention to herself with a fake pregnancy, and cementing her relationship with a man. “The baby serves a role: the baby serves to get the relationship going or to get the attention,” she says.

Foetal abduction is not a hot issue bioethically for a very good reason: there is universal agreement that it is abhorrent. But perhaps it sheds some light on the desperation that many women feel when they embark upon IVF and end up punishing their bodies and spending incredible amounts of money in the hope of having a child.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge      

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foetal abduction