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N.H. Senate blocks passage of fetal homicide law

A second attempt at creating a fetal homicide law failed to muster support in the Senate yesterday with Republican Sens. Nancy Stiles of Hampton and Bob Odell of New London siding with Democrats against the bill.

“I think the legislation needs a lot more work,” Stiles said.

New Hampshire is one of 12 states that doesn’t have any form of a fetal homicide law. Under current law, someone who negligently or recklessly causes a stillbirth or miscarriage can be charged with aggravated assault against the pregnant mother, but not murder or manslaughter. The fetal homicide bill, introduced by Rep. Leon Rideout, a Lancaster Republican, would’ve changed the law to allow charges of homicide and manslaughter for anyone involved in the death of a fetus more than 8 weeks old. The bill specifically excluded abortion from being a crime, but abortion rights groups say it would have given a fetus personhood rights that could later be used to restrict abortion rights.

Earlier this session, the House stripped the bill of the fetal homicide provision and amended the bill to allow judges to impose even stricter sentences for assault cases that cause the death of a fetus. The Senate Judiciary Committee, however, changed the bill back to a fetal homicide law. When two versions of the bill – one allowing for charges after eight weeks in the womb and the other once the fetus reaches “viability” – failed to get enough supporters, senators voted to table the bill.

Rideout was inspired to introduce the bill after his pregnant daughter lost her baby in a car accident last year. He had been encouraging constituents to call senators and ask for their support after the Senate Judiciary Committee changed it back to a fetal homicide law.

Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, urged his colleagues to support the bill. He asked senators to think about what would happen if a woman lost a pregnancy to an accident or assault at 30 weeks.

“The maximum that could be charged in that circumstance is assault,” he said. “I ask you, I ask my colleagues, is that right?”

But some senators said the legislation was too unclear to be passed. The amendment that would’ve applied fetal homicide laws to “viable fetuses” defined “fetus” as “a developing human that has obtained the basic attributes of the species.” That amendment was introduced on the floor, and several Democrats said that definition wasn’t concrete enough. There was also confusion about whether the amendment would’ve made fetal homicide a capital crime (Senate counsel said it would not) and how the bill could inadvertently affect ectopic pregnancies.

“There are too many questions as evidenced by this discussion for any of us to vote knowledgeably or definitively on this amendment,” said Sen. Bette Lasky, a Nashua Democrat.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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