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Fetal homicide bill sent to governor's desk

A bill that would punish people who harm a fetus at any stage of development goes back to the state House for a final vote.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state House of Representatives gave final approval to a proposed law that makes it a felony to kill or injure a fetus at any stage or development.

The state House voted 77-40 on Tuesday, with several Democrats joining Republicans, to send House Bill 215: "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" to Gov. Beverly Perdue, whose signature makes it law.

The legislation would find anyone who commits murder, manslaughter or assault against a pregnant woman guilty of the same crimes against the fetus, regardless of whether an attacker knows about the pregnancy.

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 existing law recognizes injury to a woman that results in a miscarriage or stillbirth as an aggravating factor that can increase the penalty.

Supporters of the bill say it puts North Carolina in step with 35 states and the federal government that recognize an unborn child at any stage of development as an additional victim. Nearly two dozen states say crimes against the fetus can come at any time after conception. 

The bill includes a provision that states it doesn't apply to legal abortions in response to criticism of past versions of the legislation.

The bill is also called "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.

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