Feticide bill seeks felony status

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RICHMOND In 2005, Tammy Skinner, a 22-year-old resident of Suffolk, became pregnant. According to police reports, the day she was supposed to deliver, she put a gun to her stomach and fired. Skinner survived; the fetus did not.

The shooting posed a dilemma for law-enforcement authorities: Could Skinner be charged with a crime in connection with the death of her unborn child? Prosecutors tried, but the case was dismissed.

However, the issue has not disappeared. In the 2008 legislative session, members of the General Assembly have put feticide back on the table. Several bills have been proposed to make killing a fetus a crime.

For example, Delegate S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, has proposed House Bill 1126. The legislation states anyone — including the mother of the fetus — who tries to cause an abortion by any means other than medically prescribed, is guilty of a Class 4 felony, which would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

This past year, Jones sponsored similar legislation. It passed the House but was defeated by a vote of 7-8 in the Senate Education and Health Committee. The bills opponents said it was an attempt to restrict womens right to have an abortion.

Jones said HB 1126 is not about abortion, but it addresses feticide — fetal homicide.

Its very clear from my perspective that its not an abortion bill. Its one when someone intentionally with forethought takes the life of an unborn child. This actually deals again with fetal homicide, Jones said.

HB 1126 and other delegates feticide proposals have been referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee. In the Senate, such legislation will be considered by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

A criminal-law subcommittee of the House panel is considering Jones proposal.

The House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions also may have a say on such matters. Delegate Phillip Hamilton, R-Newport News, chairs the health committee. He said bills addressing abortion often come before the General Assembly.

We deal with a number of those every year. The one that historically has been successful has been the bill that regulates abortion clinics, Hamilton said.

In the upper chamber, Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, said she opposes bills that would restrict abortion rights.

I do not believe it is the role of the legislature to dictate to families across the commonwealth how they manage issues that are so personal and so emotional and perhaps painful for them, Lucas said.

Sen. John S. Edwards, D-Roanoke, says he supports abortion rights. He agrees with Lucas that the assembly should not interfere in abortion because the U.S. Supreme Court decided the issue in 1973.

I think Roe vs. Wade was properly decided. Theres a balance between the right of a woman to autonomy and the control of her own body and the right of the fetus, Edwards said.

Jones is hopeful about his legislation, which he said has nothing to do with abortion.

I am optimistic that we will be able to send it back over to the Senate for another hearing and potential passage, Jones said.

Sen. Frederick Quayle, R-Suffolk, backs Jones legislation. I supported that bill last year I will support it again this year. he said.

Quayle said feticide bills failed last year because some members of the Senate health committee wrongly believed they undermined abortion rights.

There have been people on that committee that have been skeptical of anything like that for fear that it was an attack on womens rights to decide whether she wants to keep the child, Quayle said. Theyre afraid its an abortion matter.

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