This week, a House judiciary committee of the North Carolina General Assembly held its first hearing on a bill that seeks to make harming a fetus at any stage of the pregnancy a much more serious crime. The bill, known as House Bill 215, would allow a person charged with murder, manslaughter, or assault against a woman to be charged with a second count against the woman’s fetus. These charges would apply whether or not anyone, including the defendant, knew about the pregnancy.
At the hearing, lawmakers heard from members of the public who were both for and against the proposed law. The bill, sponsored by Republican lawmakers, was also changed to make clear that prosecutors would not have to prove that the attacker intended to hurt the fetus or knew a woman was pregnant.
Current North Carolina law does not qualify the death of a fetus or unborn child as a result of a violent crime as a separate crime or homicide. The proposed legislation would replace the existing law, which makes an assault or injury to a woman that results in a miscarriage or stillbirth an aggravating factor to the crime, which can increase the penalty of a felony charge.
While the bill makes clear that it does not apply to anyone who performs legal abortions, opponents of the bill argue that it could give legal status to an unborn fetus who is unable to survive outside of the mother’s womb, which, they argue, could be the first step in making abortion illegal.
The law would be known as the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act” or “Ethen’s Law” to pay tribute to a young North Carolina woman who was stabbed to death while eight months pregnant with a baby boy in 2007.
Currently, slightly less than half of the other states have laws punishing people for harming a developing fetus at any time during the pregnancy.
Source: WVEC.com, “NC fetus protection legislation gets first hearing,” Associated Press, 3/16/2011.