Senate approves ‘Unborn Victims of Violence’ actby Dara Kam | April 8th, 2013
After weeks of avoiding right-to-life issues, a Florida Senate committee signed off on a measure that would create separate crimes people who beat up or kill a pregnant woman and who also injure or kill the fetus regardless of whether they knew she was pregnant or not.
The “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee over the objections of the two Democrats on the panel, also changes all current statutory terms regarding fetuses from “unborn quick child” and “viable fetus” to “unborn child.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, a lawyer, said he was concerned that bill (SB 876) creates new penalties even if the perpetrator – or the woman herself – had no idea she was pregnant.
“That’s a dangerous step…to now charge people with things they couldn’t possibly have known,” Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said.”This is murky waters…where we could possibly be charging a person with a crime that they could have no idea or reason or knowledge of…I would ask that we tread lightly.”
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Florida, which also opposes the bill, spokeswoman Judith Selzer said the organization would support the measure if the intent provision is removed.
But supporters of the bill say that similar Florida laws already make it a crime to be a party to a murder even if the accused did not actually participate in the killing.
And Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, the bill’s sponsor, said that the new crimes would make women safer.
“My argument would be I suggest you don’t do violence against a woman,” she said.
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said the measure is too vague regarding “bodily injury” to a fetus.
“Certainly, as a mother I understand or can empathize or sympathize with anyone who is expecting and something happens to their baby. What I can’t support, however, is the notion that bodily injury is listed as an offense on an unborn that there’s no definition of what bodily injury is to an unborn. There’s no indication in the bill as to what point an unborn has a body,” Gibson said.
Stargel said that would be up to courts and juries to decide.
And Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the proposal reflects society’s values.
“Our criminal laws are replete with situations whereby if you decide to engage in criminal activity, then you’re responsible for what happens in that criminal activity. This law rightfully reflects our values as a society…in which we respect life and this is life. If as a result of criminal activity life is taken away then there should be consequences,” Bradley, a former prosecutor, said.
A House version (HB 759) is ready for a floor vote. Both versions do not create any penalties for abortions or against women who attempt to self-abort.
Earlier in the day, more than 100 Planned Parenthood staff, supporters and students – in town for the group’s annual advocacy day – held a rally on the steps of the old Capitol to encourage lawmakers to expand Medicaid, a move that would provide health coverage for about $1 million uninsured Floridians.
“What our legislators should be focusing on is how to expand health care coverage to men and women and young people throughout this state,” said Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast President Lillian Tamayo. “And what we’re seeing is the usual pivot to divisive issues that really ought to be more between a woman and her doctor and her family.”