State House passes "Unborn Victims of Violence Act"

Santa Fe, NM – The state House of Representatives has passed a measure that makes it a separate crime to kill or injure an unborn child. Supporters of the measure say it will protect pregnant mothers. But some opponents of the measure say it's a political maneuver designed to erode women's reproductive rights.

The proposal defines an "unborn child" as a living fetus at least twenty weeks old. The bill's sponsor, Albuquerque Republican Representative Larry Larra aga, said that should make it possible to prosecute an attacker for intentional harm to the fetus.

"At 20 weeks," Larra aga argued, "there would be a noticeable, you know, way of telling whether that woman was pregnant or not."

But that's exactly the sticking point for opponents, like Santa Fe Democratic Representative Brian Egolf. He said the 20-week requirement would be too difficult to prove in prosecutions.

"Because in the main House Bill 30, the gestational age of the fetus is a central component in obtaining a conviction," Egolf said, "if the woman has lost her life, the witness best able to testify about the gestational age of the fetus has died."

Egolf offered a substitute bill that would have eliminated the "fetus as a person" requirement and made it a crime for anyone to intentionally terminate a woman's pregnancy without her consent. His effort failed, leaving some to question the goal of the original bill's supporters. Joan Lamunyon Sanford is director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

"Although the proponents of the bill argued in committee that the bill was not about restricting abortion, but that it was for justice," Sanford said, "Representative Egolf's substitute had harsher penalties. That's why we feel it would have protected women better."

Larra aga's bill passed the House 63 to 5 and heads now to the Senate.