- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

RICHMOND A Senate committee yesterday rejected a bill that would have created "safe havens" where women could give up their newborn children and legislation that would have made assaults that result in the death of a fetus punishable as murder.

The Senate Courts of Justice committee voted 9-6 not to report to the full Senate a bill by Delegate Terry Kilgore that would have extended to the unborn the rights of personhood in state law.

By the same vote, the panel also killed a bill by House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith that would have allowed women to leave unwanted newborns at designated "infant receiving centers" without fear of prosecution for abuse or neglect.

Mr. Kilgore, Scott County Republican, said the feticide bill was intended to punish people whose attacks on pregnant women cause them to lose their fetuses.

"What we're doing now is we're giving away a free homicide, we're giving away a murder," he said.

Mr. Kilgore said the bill would not have applied to legal abortions, to women who take drugs designed to avert pregnancies or to accidents such as car crashes in which a woman loses her fetus.

Abortion rights groups and women's rights advocates, however, said the bill was really a backdoor attempt to outlaw abortion.

"For the first time with this bill, we'll be establishing life beginning at conception," said Bennett Greenberg, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. "I don't think I have to tell you about the implications of what that means."

Mr. Greenberg said that under the bill, people who prescribe an intrauterine device that prevents a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the womb could be convicted of murder. He also said that under legislation the General Assembly has approved requiring doctors to wait 24 hours before performing abortions, doctors who cut the time short by a few hours would have performed an illegal abortion and could be subject to a murder charge.

Mr. Griffith, Salem Republican, portrayed his safe-haven bill as a way to give a desperate new mother a way to give up her infant anonymously, safely and free of prosecution within 72 hours of birth rather than abandoning the baby.

Several senators voiced concern that the receiving centers would have no information about the babies they receive, nor would people who later would adopt them.

Mr. Griffith noted that women could obtain a personal identification number that they could use to anonymously provide information about themselves and her baby. Even should they choose not to, he said, it's acceptable if it prevents women from leaving newborns to die in trash bins or motel rooms moments after birth.

"Certainly anybody who's adopting that child would have to know … that this was an abandoned baby, and there is no information available. We're not trying to mislead anybody," he said. "These kids are scared. That's why they don't go to the hospitals in the first place."

Sen. Janet Howell, Fairfax Democrat, said she opposed the bill because she felt it sent the wrong message.

"It would put in the code a public policy that basically says it's OK to abandon your baby. It would be certain circumstances and in certain places, but it would say abandoning a baby is an acceptable course in Virginia," she said.

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