A measure aiming to make it a separate criminal offense to cause the injury or death of an unborn child is heading to the House floor.
Seminole Republican Representative Larry Ahern says his bill called “the Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act” is about justice. He says too many times, a woman and her unborn child are victims of violence, which end in death for the both of them. But, the perpetrator is only convicted of killing the mother.
“And, that happened right here in Tallahassee. Laquecia Herring was 21-weeks pregnant and her unborn child and her brother were killed in 2011. The father received a life sentence for a double murder, but not the unborn child. It didn’t count,” said Ahern.
So, he says his bill seeks to give prosecutors discretion to determine when it’s applicable to charge someone who caused the death or injury of an unborn child, at any stage of development. Currently, it’s only a crime to cause the death or injury of what’s called an “unborn quick child,” or a viable fetus outside the womb. Ahern’s bill would now expands that definition to include all pregnancies.
And, Ahern says he filed the bill in part because of cases like Remee Lee.
“In Tampa, with Ms. Remy Lee, who was just over 6 weeks pregnant, her boyfriend gave her a pill to terminate a pregnancy that was disguised as an antibiotic,” Ahern added.
Her former boyfriend, John Welden pleaded guilty, after admitting to giving her a drug called Cytotec—used to induce labor or abortion—which later caused Lee to miscarry. And, speaking before members of the House Judiciary Committee, Lee says today, she’s still devastated by the loss.
“I’m very thankful to be here, not only in the committee meeting, but to be alive, because a lot of women that could be affected by this don’t get to live to speak and share their stories. [tears] So, I’m very blessed that I’m still here, but a big part of me is missing. I really miss my baby every day,” said Lee, tearfully.
She says it’s been very hard on her, and every day presents a new challenge as she always thinks about what life would be like as a present mother.
“I just wanted to be home with the baby, changing diapers, having drool and spit up all over me, and no parent should ever have to endure burying a child, and this is where I’m at. [tears] Instead of buying a crib, I need to buy a coffin and a burial plot. And, this is not the way I wanted it to go. I only wanted us to be separated in death, but in my death, he should be the one burying me,” Lee added.
Lee says that’s why she wants to see this bill passed out of both chambers and signed into law.
“And, as our technology progresses, and we’re able to detect pregnancies so much sooner, I feel like our laws need to adhere to that, and we need to change as well. And, as much as I hope that this law passes, I hope even more that we never have to use it again, that people stop doing these things. I don’t want any Floridians to suffer, men or women, as a result of this,” said Lee.
The House Judiciary Committee agreed to pass the bill 13-3, with Democrats voting against the proposal. Members didn’t have a lengthy discussion on the bill in this committee, but in previous committees, the abortion issue did come up. Opponents argued the measure is now saying that at the point of conception, personhood exists. But, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Lakeland Senator Kelli Stargel, says the bill, in no way, has any bearing on that.
“With the courage of Remee coming forward, and letting people know, these are the type of victims we’re talking about. This is not an abortion debate. This is a debate about a baby that was in her womb that was taken from her, and I think it’s just as devastating in utero, just as it had been murdered out of the crib,” said Stargel, at a press conference last year.
The bill also includes an exemption for a woman who gets an abortion and the doctor who performs it. The Senate measure has one more stop before it heads for a floor vote. Meanwhile, 38 states have similar laws on the books.
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