TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Responding to the case of a Tampa-area woman who was tricked into taking an abortion pill, Florida lawmakers passed legislation Wednesday that would make it a crime to kill or injure a fetus at any stage of development.
Remee Jo Lee watched as the Florida Senate voted 25-14 for the bill that expands a current state law that allows for murder or manslaughter charges only if a fetus dies after it has developed to a point where it can survive outside the womb. Current law also doesn't apply to injured fetuses.
The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott, who has supported previous anti-abortion bills approved by the Florida Legislature. Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email Wednesday that the governor looks forward to signing the legislation.
Lee, who had a miscarriage after taking the drug provided by her ex-boyfriend, cried after legislators passed the legislation.
"If one baby is saved then that just means everything," Lee said. "I really hope this will save the lives of mothers and of babies and that no other parent like myself ... will ever have to deal with this pain ever again."
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and the Senate sponsor of the bill (HB 59) said the legislation was needed because Lee's ex-boyfriend could not be charged by state law-enforcement for what he did.
Federal authorities initially charged John Welden with killing Lee's unborn child and he faced up to life in prison. That charged was dropped when Welden agreed to plead guilty to product tampering and he was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison.
But the bill drew opposition from legislators who said they were concerned about how the new law would be carried out.
Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Aventura, said a woman who is pregnant for one month could lose her baby during a car accident and the driver would be charged with murder.
"That is wrong, it really is wrong," Margolis said.
But Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said that the legislation was about protecting life.
"We value life in the state of Florida for the born and the unborn and that's what this is about," Bradley said.
Under the bill penalties for killing or injuring a fetus under the bill (HB 59) would be the same as if the crimes were committed against a person, except that the death penalty could not be sought.
Similar bills have been filed and died nearly every year since the law applying to viable fetuses was passed in 2005.