Unborn Victims Act Signed by Governor

in Homicide, on

When we published our last post, the Unborn Victims Act had been presented to the governor. She signed it last week. North Carolina Session Law 2011-60 will go into effect on December 1, 2011.

The law increases the criminal penalties for causing the death or injury of a fetus. By the end of the year, even if the mother, much less the suspect, is unaware of the pregnancy, the suspect could be charged with murder, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, assault or battery of the fetus in addition to charges for any crime against the mother.

The two provisions of the bill that generated the most controversy were the knowledge of the pregnancy and the age of the fetus. We discussed the former in our last post, so we’re moving on the latter.

Age of the fetus.

This issue was the subject of much debate in both the House and the Senate, it seems, and for obvious reasons. Critics pointed out that the proposed law would be incompatible with existing law. In North Carolina, a pregnancy can be voluntarily terminated up to 20 weeks. Some suggested that changing the current termination of pregnancy statute was the main motivation for the proposed change to the criminal code.

At least one amendment was offered, and defeated, to limit application of the law to a fetus older than 20 weeks. In the end, lawmakers agreed that the new law would exclude both physicians and mothers acting in accordance with existing law.

The law may or may not be challenged in the courts. Opponents of the law aren’t anxious for the typical test case scenario, though — laws are tested when they are enforced. In this case, that would require a crime against a pregnant woman, something no one wants.

Source: North Carolina Session Law 2011-60, Ajpril 29, 2011