Fetal homicide bill to get first hearing

Posted March 16, 2011 5:52 a.m. EDT

— A bill that would punish people who harm a fetus at any stage of development gets its first hearing in the North Carolina General Assembly Wednesday.

A House judiciary committee holds hearings Wednesday on House Bill 215, which would make it a felony for an attacker to kill or injure a fetus at any stage of development, whether or not anyone knew about the pregnancy.

The legislation makes clear that it doesn't apply to legal abortions, but critics say the bill could give legal status to forming fetuses who are unable to survive outside their mother's womb.

The measure would replace an existing state law that makes injury to a woman that results in a miscarriage or stillbirth an aggravating factor. That can increase the penalty for a felony.

State law does not recognize the death of a fetus or unborn child as a result of a violent crime as a homicide or separate crime.

The bill is entitled the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" or "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 relatives have lobbied state lawmakers for a fetal homicide law.