An activist who had a dead fetus in a jar at an anti-abortion rally is facing charges for keeping and exposing a dead body or body part.

Although the defense has not yet raised the issue in the trial, the charge underscores the contradictions in U.S. law over the legal standing of a fetus, says Brian Chavez-Ochoa, attorney for Jeff White, a lay minister from Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

White was arrested last spring while demonstrating outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in the nation’s capital, the Washington Post reported.

When police officers asked White what he had in his pocket, he pulled out a jar with a 15- to 17-week-old female fetus, set in clear liquid.

The officers made phone calls to commanders and prosecutors to determine what law White might have broken, the Post said. They finally arrested him and charged him with keeping and exposing a dead body or body part.

White was in Washington for counter-demonstrations to an abortion rights rally and told the police the fetus was a “teaching tool.” He now is on trial in D.C. Superior Court.

Chavez-Ochoa pointed out in an interview with the Post that abortion rights activists argue a fetus is merely a cluster of cells, not a human being.

“If that argument is correct,” he said, “then how can somebody be charged by the District of Columbia with displaying a human being” when it was a fetus?

“It’s a contradictory argument,” Chavez-Ochoa said. “If it’s not just a clump of cells, is the attorney general willing to concede that a … fetus is in fact a human being?”

The Post said, however, the defense so far has not advanced that argument, instead focusing for the previous two days on attacking the testimony of the arresting officers and suggesting the incident did not constitute “display” of a dead body.

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