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January 04. 2012 7:34PM

Fetal homicide bill gets House vote OK

CONCORD — The House Wednesday approved a bill allowing authorities to criminally charge a person who causes the violent death of a fetus.

House Bill 217 was approved on a 213-125 vote after the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Kathleen Souza, R-Manchester, tried but failed to return the bill to her original language.

She opposed changes made to the bill in committee that would restrict fetal homicide to fetuses more than 24 weeks and would require the perpetrator to knowingly or purposely cause the death and also know that the woman is pregnant.

The amended bill was supported on a 12-4 vote in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

House Speaker William O’Brien said after the vote “This law will help bring deserved justice to those families who lose a child in the instance of homicide. Additionally, it also could serve as deterrence for those wishing to do harm to a pregnant woman or her baby, and we are hopeful to prevent such horrendous crimes from ever happening in New Hampshire.”

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt said “Today the New Hampshire House sent a message that anytime an expectant mother is a victim of violence in our state, two lives are in the balance, not just the mother. We feel strongly that both victims deserve protection and justice. This is the first step in having New Hampshire join 36 other states who also recognize the “unborn child” as a crime victim for the purposes of homicide.”

Souza argued the amended bill would only protect families whose unborn child is taken from them after reaching 24 weeks.

She said all a perpetrator would have to say to a judge is “I didn’t mean to,” and the mother is probably dead and can’t challenge the person.

“This whole amendment is a ruse. My amendment makes you responsible for your action,” Souza said. “Here in no way are you responsible for anything.”

Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, opposed the bill, saying it would change the definition of personhood under the state’s common law.

And he said lawmakers passed legislation in 1990 that addresses the issue. “The New Hampshire Legislature has already done the right thing to protect the unborn who are the victims of crime,” he said.

Opponents of fetal homicide legislation in the past have characterized it as a back-door attempt to ban abortions, but earlier Souza said the bill is not about abortion.

Souza was the prime sponsor of the recently enacted parental notification law that requires a female 18 years old and younger to tell her parents before an abortion can be performed.

Souza said she believes the bill should cover a fetus from the time of conception, but Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee chair Rep. Elaine Swinford, R-Barnstead, said the committee decided on 24 months because at that point a child can survive outside the womb.

“We got advice from anybody who was willing to give us advice,” she said. “We feel this bill is fair and just.”

Fetal homicide bills have never passed the legislature. There are currently 37 states that have fetal homicide laws as well as the federal government.


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