The call for embryos to be given a clear legal status has been sounded by the Church in France following a court decision allowing parents to enter miscarried fetuses in the official register.
However abortion rights supporters have vehemently opposed the idea.
Reuters reports French Bishop Conference president Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois (pictured) said that establishing this status would not undermine legal abortion in France because of the way the law allowing the termination of pregnancies was constructed.
The Cour de Cassation, France's highest appeals court, ruled on February 6 that a miscarried fetus could be entered into the civil registry if a couple wished to commemorate it that way.
"This means that a fetus has a status," said Cardinal Vingt-Trois said.
"What has happened in the past 50 years is that the legal status of the embryo and fetus has been rapidly changed. They have been turned into things.
"The Church's position is that we must act as if the embryo were a person.
"We protect endangered animals so we should protect people too," he said.
Abortion rights campaigner Marie-Francoise Colombani, columnist for the women's magazine Elle, said the court had opened a Pandora's box by trying to accommodate grieving parents.
"Why don't we give legal status to what develops in a test tube during in vitro fertilization?" Ms Colambani said.
"The law is supposed to be a safeguard, but it has produced sheer folly," she said.
In France, a miscarried fetus or stillborn child can be registered if it was once viable, defined as being older than 22 weeks of pregnancy or weighing more than 500 grams. Any below that are usually treated as hospital waste and incinerated.
Three couples whose miscarried fetuses fell below those limits sued to register and bury them. The court agreed the limits were not legally binding and permitted registration.
Cardinal Vingt-Trois said a legal status for a fetus would not necessarily undermine France's current abortion law.
"To this day, abortion has never been legalised, it was just decriminalised," he said.
"That's not the same thing."
French Catholics seek legal status for embryos (Reuters)