TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature on Wednesday passed a measure, partly driven by a Tampa case, aimed at protecting children not-yet born.
The Senate voted 25-14 to pass the House bill (HB 59), sending the “Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act” to Gov. Rick Scott for review.
Scott’s office has not publicly confirmed he will sign the bill, though the Republican governor opposes abortion.
“I know this governor values life,” said Senate sponsor Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. “I feel very confident he will sign this.”
Versions of the bill have been introduced since 2006.
As a deterrent, “I really hope that this will save the lives of mothers and of babies,” said Remee Lee of Tampa. Lee’s ex-boyfriend last year tricked her into taking an abortion pill, causing her to miscarry their child.
“I hope that no other parent like myself … will ever have to deal with this pain,” she added. “You never get over it. It haunts me every single day.”
The measure creates new penalties for those who harm a baby, at any stage of development, that is still in the mother’s womb.
The act will allow perpetrators to be charged with a separate offense if they commit a crime, such as battery or murder, resulting in injury or death to a fetus.
Current law doesn’t apply to injured fetuses and allows for separate murder or manslaughter charges only if a baby has died after the point where it could have survived outside the mother’s womb.
The separate charge would not require prosecutors to show a defendant’s criminal intent or even awareness of a woman’s pregnancy.
That provision continued to trouble Democratic senators, including Geraldine Thompson of Orlando and Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood.
They used the example of drivers who get into wrecks, resulting in a pregnant passenger’s baby getting hurt or killed. But such accidents usually involve negligence – a civil case – and not crimes.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, instead used the example of someone committing manslaughter while driving under the influence, killing a mother and her unborn child.
Under the proposed law, the drunk driver in that case would be subject to two counts of DUI-manslaughter instead of one.
“We value life, born and unborn,” Bradley said in debate. “That’s what this is about.”
Lee’s ex-boyfriend, John Andrew Welden, the son of an obstetrician, was sentenced in January to nearly 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to a federal drug tampering charge.
Welden, also of Tampa, admitted he forged a prescription for an abortion drug, scraped identifying marks off the pills, then told Lee they were an antibiotic.
Lee, who was six or seven weeks pregnant, took one pill. The next day, her unborn baby no longer had a heartbeat.