Weighing the case of Sonya Jackson, who is five months pregnant and was jailed earlier this month on drug charges, Superior Court Judge Leonard Arnold immediately appointed a lawyer to represent the foetus.
The case was presented after Ms Jackson asked for a bail reduction to enable her to leave the jail and obtain the abortion. Delivering his ruling yesterday, Judge Arnold declared: "I have decided that the unborn child requires representation".
The case offers another perspective on the foetus-rights debate, which has focused until now on cases where an unborn child has been killed or damaged because of events inflicted on it while in the womb. There were almost 200 prosecutions in the United States last year involving harm done to a foetus.
Especially controversial was the case of Deborah Zimmerman, a Wisconsin woman, who was charged with attempted homicide of her foetus.
She was arrested after being taken drunk to a hospital delivery room. Suggesting she wanted to pickle the child, she told doctors, "I'm going to kill this thing".
Judge Arnold's decision yesterday prompted immediate protest from the National Organisation for Women (NOW).
"New Jersey doesn't have a law restricting abortion," said Susan Atwood, president of the local chapter of NOW. "I am concerned that this woman is being denied her constitutional rights by the judge.
Ms Jackson, 33, who was arrested on charges of selling heroin is being held on $35,000 bail. Her foetus will be represented by Richard Collier, a lawyer who has helped represent anti-abortion groups in the past.