The Florida Senate voted 25-14 last week to pass a bill making it a separate crime to kill or harm a fetus while committing a crime against a pregnant woman. Florida Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign it.
Under current Florida law, a person can already be charged with manslaughter or murder if he or she kills a viable fetus. But this new bill, HB 59, expands the penalties to include causing injury or death to a fetus at any stage of development, starting with conception.
At least 38 states have enacted some type of fetal homicide law, and 23 of those laws apply to the earliest stages of development. Supporters of these laws usually promote them as a way to curb violence against pregnant women. The Florida bill was reportedly a response to a woman who lost her pregnancy after a boyfriend tricked her into taking an abortion pill; the now ex-boyfriend was sentenced to 14 years in prison for drug-tampering. But, fetal homicide laws, by creating independent rights for fetuses separate from pregnant women, have proved to be a dangerous proposition.
States have used fetal homicide laws, like the one is Florida, to criminalize pregnant women or poor pregnancy outcomes. National Advocates for Pregnant Women has asserted that since 2005, there have been more than 200 arrests of women based on arguments that purport to treat fetuses separate from pregnant women. Consider Bei Bei Shuai, who in 2012 was charged with fetal murder after Shuai, who was 33 weeks pregnant, attempted suicide.
More recently, Alicia Beltran was arrested after after she sought early prenatal care and told health care workers about her prior use of painkillers and her attempts to stop using on her own. Instead of receiving support, a court ordered Beltran to be detained at an inpatient drug treatment program two hours from her home. Despite her loss of liberty, Beltran did not have an attorney at her initial court appearance; but her fetus did.
Media Resources: Florida House of Representatives; RH Reality Check 4/24/14; Associated Press 4/23/14; Feminist Newswire 10/4/13, 4/11/14