Fla. Bill Making Fetal Harm a Crime Heads To Gov.

April 24, 2014 — The Florida Senate on Wednesday approved legislation (HB 59) that would make it a crime to injure or kill a fetus at any stage of development, the Bradenton Herald reports. The legislation now proceeds to Gov. Rick Scott (R) for consideration. If the governor signs it, the measure would take effect Oct. 1.

Current state law covers the deaths of fetuses in cases related to vehicular homicide, DUI manslaughter, or death by injury to the woman. Offenders can be charged only if the fetus has developed to the point of viability outside the womb (Mitchell, Bradenton Herald, 4/24). No charges can be brought if the fetus is only injured.

Under the new measure, offenders who kill or injure a fetus could be charged just as if they had harmed or killed a person, although they would not be subject to the death penalty (Fineout, AP/Tallahassee Democrat, 4/24).

According to the Herald, state Rep. Larry Ahern (R) and state Sen. Kelli Stargel (R) proposed the measure in response to a case in which a man tricked his former girlfriend into taking abortion medication, causing her to miscarry at seven weeks.

The Florida measure is modeled after the federal legislation under which the man was charged (Bradenton Herald, 4/24). According to the AP/Tallahassee Democrat, similar bills have been introduced in and rejected by the Florida Legislature almost every year since 2005 (AP/Tallahassee Democrat, 4/24).

Gov. Expected To Sign Bill

John Tupps, a spokesperson for Scott, said in an email that the governor "is pro-life and believes that the lives of unborn children must be protected." He added, "He looks forward to signing this legislation."

According to the Bradenton Herald, the law would make Florida one of 24 states allowing offenders to be charged separately for the death or injury of a fetus at any developmental stage.

Democrats Voice Concerns

According to the Bradenton Herald, state Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the measure in both chambers, voicing concerns about unintended consequences in cases where the injury or death was unintentional or when a woman was unaware she was pregnant.

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D) said, "I know how important it is to protect women from acts of domestic violence, but as we navigate this issue we just have to make sure that we factor [in] everything that we know" (Bradenton Herald, 4/24).

Similarly, state Sen. Gwen Margolis (D) said that a woman with a four-week-old embryo could potentially lose her pregnancy in a car accident and the driver could be charged with murder. "That is wrong, it really is wrong," she said (AP/Tallahassee Democrat, 4/24).