New Hampshire Senate Bill 66 is one of dozens of “foetal homicide” laws across the country that allow foetuses to be considered people in cases of homicide or manslaughter.
The New Hampshire bill defines a foetus as a person in such cases after 20 weeks. Supporters say this allows those who might kill a foetus – in a car crash, or assault, for example – to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Women’s rights advocates, however, say the laws can also be interpreted to ban abortion. To assuage these fears, New Hampshire legislators added an exemption for women seeking abortions and the doctors providing them.
As originally written, the act exempted “any act” committed by the pregnant woman or her doctor from cases of second-degree murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, or causing or aiding suicide.
“The bill as drafted allows for physician-assisted suicide and allows a pregnant woman to commit homicide without consequences,” Republican Representative JR Hoell told the Concord Monitor.
Legislators, however, only caught the error after it had passed both chambers of Congress and was headed to Governor Chris Sununu’s desk.
Members of Congress quickly voted to change the language through a process normally used to correct spelling and grammar.
“No one in this chamber voted to allow anyone to be able to murder anyone,” Republican House Majority Leader Dick Hinch said. “That was not the intent.”
Thirty-eight other states currently have foetal homicide laws on the books. The laws have raised concerns about prosecuting mothers for miscarriages, or for smoking or drinking during pregnancy.
Democrats in New Hampshire protested that the Republican-sponsored bill is redundant, pointing out that women can already pursue felony charges in cases that result in miscarriage or stillbirth.
“Senate Bill 66 puts New Hampshire on the dangerous path to recognising fetal personhood in our laws,” Senator Martha Hennessey said.
The bill, however, easily passed New Hampshire's Republican legislature. Mr Sununu is expected to sign the revised measure into law.
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