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Bill would make killing fetuses a crime

Posted March 3, 2011 7:43 a.m. EST
Updated March 3, 2011 5:59 p.m. EST

— Several North Carolina lawmakers are promoting legislation that would create criminal offenses for acts that cause the death or injury of a fetus "at any stage of development."

Rep. Dale Folwell, the second-ranking Republican in the state House, and three Republican colleagues spoke Thursday about new legislation they say would protect the most vulnerable.

"This bill speaks for itself, and it speaks to how North Carolina is going to treat murderers and thugs of pregnant women in this state," Folwell said.

If it becomes law, House Bill 215 would make someone who commits murder, manslaughter or assault against a pregnant woman guilty of the same crimes against the fetus.

North Carolina is one of about 15 states that does not recognize the death of a fetus or unborn child as a result of a violent crime as a homicide.

State law makes injury to a woman that results in a miscarriage or stillbirth an aggravating factor in a felony. The new bill would make it a separate crime.

The new bill also addresses criticisms that have stalled similar legislation in the past. It makes clear that the provisions don't apply to legal abortions or impose criminal liability of an expectant mother who suffers domestic violence that injures or kills her fetus.

The bill is named "Ethen's Law" after the unborn son of Jenna Nielsen, who was eight months pregnant when she was stabbed to death outside a Raleigh convenience store in June 2007.

Her father, Kevin Blaine, and father-in-law, Tim Nielsen, have spent years lobbying state lawmakers for a fetal homicide law.

The campaign for such a law has garnered attention amid other high-profile slayings of pregnant women, as well, including Janet Abaroa in Durham in 2005, Michelle Young in Wake County in 2006, and Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, in Jacksonville in 2007.

Relatives of Lisa Wallace – whose unborn twins died after she was shot in in Warsaw in 2008 – have also campaigned for a state law making actions that kill an unborn child a separate offense.

Effie Steele, whose 21-year-old daughter Ebony Robinson was shot and killed just weeks before she was supposed to give birth to son Elijah in 2007, spoke about the bill Thursday.

"I felt betrayed and robbed when the murderer of Ebony and Elijah was not charged with double homicide and was not made to pay for the life of of my grandson," she said. "I was just flabbergasted when they told me that he would not be charged with Elijah’s murder."