March 2, 2018

Bill to recognize fetus as person in homicides clears panel

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

A bill to recognize the fetus as a person in cases of homicide cleared the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee by a unanimous vote on Feb. 21. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the proposal.

Senate Bill 203, authored by Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, would allow a prosecutor to seek additional penalties against a defendant for crimes resulting in the loss of a fetus.

If a fetus, at any stage of development, is killed during the crimes of murder, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, or feticide, the perpetrator may incur additional penalties. The legislation does not apply to a lawfully performed abortion.

Under the bill, a perpetrator who commits a felony that causes the termination of a pregnancy could receive an additional sentence of six to 20 years. Current law provides increased penalties for the death of a fetus only if the fetus has reached viability.

Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director who serves as the public policy spokesperson for the bishops in Indiana, testified in support of the bill.

“All life is a gift from God. All human life has dignity and is sacred, because each human being is created in the image and likeness of God,” said Tebbe. “The Indiana Catholic Conference appreciates that this bill recognizes that life of the unborn child is recognized from the beginning and values him or her as it does the mother.”

Freeman said the bill originated from a constituent, Jennifer Lee, who came to him with a “tragic story.” He explained Lee’s daughter Brittany McNew was “in the wrong place at the wrong time in the city of Indianapolis and was the victim of a drive-by shooting—a senseless act of violence. To compound the problem and make it worse, her daughter was pregnant at the time. The prosecutor could not bring a second homicide charge in that case.”

Current law allows a six to 20-year enhancement if you kill a woman who happens to be pregnant. However, the fetus is only recognized at the stage of viability which Indiana statute defines at 24 weeks gestational age.

“The bill does two things,” said Freeman. “It gives the prosecutor a tool, that if the person knowingly or intentionally knew that a woman was pregnant and killed that woman, the defendant would be eligible for a second homicide charge.” He added that it changes the law to prosecute a defendant for a second homicide charge of a fetus at any stage of development rather than at viability.

The Indianapolis lawmaker said that the language in the bill is not new. “In 2004, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act from Congress allow[ed] for this, so we are not setting any kind of new precedent,” said Freeman. “Twenty-three other states already have this language of a fetus at any stage of development.”

He also assured the committee that he was not trying to do some “backdoor abortion bill.”

When working with Legislative Services Agency to draft the legislation, he wanted to make it “very clear” that the bill would have nothing to do with a woman’s right to an abortion. “It doesn’t have anything to do with a woman’s choice to take her own pregnancy. This is about a third actor, a third person who would kill a woman [who was pregnant]. That’s what this bill targets,” said Freeman.

Jennifer Lee testified in support of the bill. Lee’s daughter was visiting a house one morning when someone drove by and shot 12 times into the back of the home, with one of the bullets striking her daughter Brittany.

They got a call that their daughter was being rushed to the hospital, and that she needed immediate surgery, Lee said. After they were unable to save her, the doctor said, “they didn’t just lose one life, but lost two.” And they believed the last heartbeat they heard was that of the baby.

Lee said, “The EMT [emergency medical technician] said Brittany’s last words were, ‘Please don’t let me lose my baby.’ I made a promise that I would seek justice for my daughter and her baby.” Lee said they discovered that after the police made the arrest, they could only charge the person with aggravated battery for the death of their grandchild.

“I know this bill won’t go into effect for my grandbaby, but it will stand strong for the next man or woman who commits a senseless act against these unborn babies,” said Lee. “It should not matter if Brittany was six weeks pregnant, six months pregnant, or their grandchild was 6 years old. Just because these babies are not old enough to live outside of the womb does not mean they are not already loved.”

Parvonay Stover, government affairs director of the Indiana Attorney General’s office, also spoke in favor of the legislation. “We absolutely support this bill and giving prosecutors the tools to combat this horrific act,” she said.

For more information on the legislative efforts of the ICC, go to www.indianacc.org.
 

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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