National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Fla. Abortion Case Prompts Renewed Push for Bill Criminalizing Harm to Fetus

Fla. Abortion Case Prompts Renewed Push for Bill Criminalizing Harm to Fetus

September 19, 2013 — Florida Sen. Kelli Stargel (R) and state Rep. Larry Ahern (R) on Wednesday pledged to renew efforts to pass legislation that would make it a felony to harm a fetus, the Tampa Tribune reports. The legislation passed the state House this year but failed in the Senate.

Stargel and Ahern announced the legislation at a news conference with Remee Jo Lee, whose former boyfriend, John Welden, tricked her into taking a medication abortion drug when she was about six or seven weeks pregnant. Lee's attorney said prosecutors could not charge Welden for ending the pregnancy because the fetus could not survive outside the womb and no Florida statute addresses the matter. Welden later pleaded guilty to federal product-tampering charges (Morelli, Tampa Tribune, 9/18).

Stargel and Ahern's measure would classify any criminal act resulting in the end of a pregnancy as potential murder or manslaughter, according to Tampa Bay 10 News.

Florida already has a variety of laws that protect fetuses, including some that only apply to a viable fetus and some that apply when movement can be seen or felt (Kamm, Tampa Bay 10 News, 9/18). The new measure -- called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act -- would apply at any stage of pregnancy "so the courts don't have to determine the viability factor," Stargel said.

She and Ahern said their bill would not affect abortion laws because it would exempt women obtaining abortions and doctors who provide the procedure. Opponents of the measure argued that it would confer "personhood" to fetuses and fertilized eggs, which could be used to justify bans on abortion or certain forms of birth control (Tampa Tribune, 9/18).