A bill making the death of an unborn child a separate crime from an offense against the mother has passed the Florida House.
H.B.759 passed on a vote of 74-43 on Thursday and includes the provision that criminal charges would apply even if the perpetrator did not know the woman was pregnant. A similar bill has already cleared several committees in the Florida Senate.
The wording of the bill suggests that any point of gestational development is covered, creating contention among the bills many opponents. Opponents point out there would be an increase in pregnancy tests on women injured or killed as the result of a crime.
This could also lead to renewed interest in the determination of when life starts and at what point a fertilized egg is considered to be a human life. The term "viable fetus" is presently used under Florida law and is defined as the point when a fetus becomes capable of a meaningful life outside the mother's body.
The defined point of viability under Florida statutes is generally accepted as being at 23-24 weeks of gestation, or the completion of the second trimester in a pregnancy. Passage of the House or Senate bill would jeopardize the standing of the current wording under Florida's criminal laws.
There are currently 38 states that have fetal homicide laws similar to the federal statute signed into law on April 1, 2004 (Unborn Victims of Violence Act). Only 23 states have fetal homicide laws that apply to the very earliest stages of pregnancy.
As a constitutional issue, the use of the term "unborn child" in the House bill, replacing the term, "viable fetus," will end up being subject to interpretation through the legal system.