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Unborn Child Bill Wins Senate Panel OK

If a pregnant woman is killed, the offender would be on the hook for two deaths, no matter how far along the pregnancy is, under legislation approved by a Senate panel Thursday.

But, some opponents of the legislation fear that the bill would also open the door for charges against doctors who perform abortions.

Under the bill (SB 290), if someone causes the end of a woman's pregnancy at any stage by death or injury to the mother, he or she would be charged with the death of the unborn child. Under current law, an offender can only be prosecuted for the death of a fetus if the fetus could live outside of the mother's womb. But under the bill, any fertilized egg would expand the crime.

“I want to make sure that individual is charged with a double homicide,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, the bill sponsor.

The legislation changes the technical language from “viable fetus” to “unborn child,” a change that is modeled after federal standards. The bill also eliminates a requirement that the offender would have had to have known that the woman was pregnant if a prosecutor intends to file charges.

Some lawmakers and women's rights groups said they feared the language would unintentionally infringe upon a woman's right to end a pregnancy. The federal law provides specific protections for an abortion, but the legislation approved by the Senate Criminal Justice committee on Thursday does not.

Sen. Ted Deutsch, D-Boca Raton, said he was concerned that doctors could potentially be prosecuted for performing an abortion. Fasano said that he would accept a change to his legislation to clarify that he was not attacking abortion rights, but when Deutsch offered an amendment to make that change, other members of the committee quashed it.

A portion of the staff analysis warns that changing the definitions from viable fetus to unborn child could have unintended consequences. The analysis states that while the current law “serves to prevent prosecutions based upon the homicidal actions prohibited in that section of the criminal law, the amended definitions of terms could be relied upon in cases that reach beyond the criminal law.”

The bill passed 6-2 in Criminal Justice and still has stops before the Judiciary Committee as well as the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee. The House version (HB 141) has been introduced, but has not yet been heard by a committee.

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