'Fetal Homicide' Bill Draws ACLU Scrutiny

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
March 26, 2010 12:00 am


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ACLU of Florida
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today released the following statement, which can be attributed to Courtenay Strickland, Public Policy Director:

“Like the public at large, the ACLU is horrified by news reports of the murder in St. Petersburg, FL of 24 year old Anastasia Boyd, who was four months pregnant at the time of her death. People who commit these heinous crimes against pregnant women can and should be punished severely, and the punishment should both recognize the additional loss of the pregnancy and be serious enough to serve as a deterrent to would-be perpetrators. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 290, by Senator Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, is not an effective way to achieve these goals. SB 290 would create a separate criminal offense for the loss of an embryo at any stage of development – including even a fertilized egg – due to injury to the mother. Rather than address the additional, tragic injury to the woman when violent crime harms her pregnancy, Senator Fasano’s proposal treats the fetus as an independent victim, with legal rights distinct from the woman harmed or killed by the criminal conduct.

“The proposal, if passed, would lead to major enforcement problems, especially in cases where neither the alleged perpetrator – nor possibly even the woman suffering the injury – were aware of her pregnancy. The bill could allow a person to be charged and convicted of capital murder, which by definition requires a specific intent to kill, even in cases where the perpetrator neither knew of nor intended to harm the pregnancy. Thus, a fetus would receive greater protection under the law than a fully developed human being. The proposed law also threatens to erode women’s rights by creating tension with the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, where the Court ruled that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.”

“We fully support the proper punishment of violence against pregnant women that harms or causes the loss of their fetuses. Instead of creating a separate offense, the law should increase the penalty when a criminal act results in harm to both the woman and the pregnancy. Such penalty enhancements punish the additional injury that these acts cause without conferring on the fetus the status of a legal entity. Unlike “fetal homicide” legislation like SB 290, such penalty enhancements focus the criminal law where it should be: on the additional, often devastating injury suffered by the woman when a crime harms or causes the loss of her fetus.

“We respect Senator Fasano’s demonstrated concern for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence in Florida. However, for the terrible crime in question today, there are appropriate policy means by which to address them. SB 290 is simply not one of them.”

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