The Florida Senate gave final approval on Wednesday to HB 59, known as the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” which will make it a separate crime to kill or injure a fetus during a crime against a pregnant woman. The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for approval.
Current state law only allows for manslaughter or murder charges if a viable fetus is killed. HB 59 expands criminal penalties to a fetus at any stage of development from conception onward, and includes injury as well as death.
Similar bills have been repeatedly rejected by the Florida legislature since 2005, when the law affecting only viable fetuses was passed. This year, however, legislators may have been influenced by the story of Remee Jo Lee, who lost an early pregnancy after being slipped an abortion pill by her boyfriend. The boyfriend, John Welden, was ultimately sent to prison for 14 years on drug-tampering charges, less than the life sentence he could have received under HB 59.
This will make Florida the 24th state to pass a fetal homicide law applying to the earliest stages of development. At least 38 states have some form of fetal homicide law on the books.
Reproductive justice advocates fear that fetal homicide laws could indirectly create “personhood” rights for fetuses that would end up outlawing abortion and even some forms of contraception. Florida’s bill would not in itself create “personhood” rights, but it “raises the specter of personhood” by defining a fetus as a person in the criminal code, Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, has told RH Reality Check.
A spokesman for Gov. Scott told the Associated Press that the governor looks forward to signing the legislation.