- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

Gov. Mark Warner yesterday signed two identical bills that would make murdering a fetus a crime.

The decision angered pro-choice groups and some Democrats, who say the “feticide” law could lead to bans on abortion since it gives a fetus rights.

“This legislation sets Virginia on a course that can ultimately overturn a woman’s right to choose, the ultimate goal of many proponents of these measures,” said Bennet Greenberg, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.

He also said supporters of the legislation took “shameful advantage” of the Laci Peterson case in California, in which Mrs. Peterson’s husband is accused of killing her and their unborn child.

The bills state fetal homicide is murder when the person who killed the unborn child did so with malice. Current law requires prosecutors to prove that a person specifically intended to cause harm to an unborn child, which legal experts say is difficult.

Mr. Warner is expected to sign the bills by the end of the weekend. They would take effect July 1.

The authors of the bills — Delegate John A. Cosgrove, Chesapeake Republican, and Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican — repeatedly said the bills were not meant to infringe on abortion rights.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, had the option of vetoing the bills or allowing them to become law without his signature. He had proposed amending the bills by adding a sentence stating the measures are not intended to threaten women’s rights established in Roe v. Wade — the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion.

Last month, the state House rejected the amendment 69-31, and the state Senate rejected it 25-15.

“During the debate, the proponents of the bills asserted that the legislation has nothing to do with abortion rights,” Mr. Warner said yesterday.

In his decision, Mr. Warner quoted Mr. Cosgrove and Mr. Stolle, who said the bills were not meant to infringe on abortion rights.

He also said: “The legislative intent has been made clear: Nothing in [the bills] can credibly be used as part of an effort to restrict a woman’s right to choose. Given that clear legislative intent, and given my support for legislation that punishes violent acts against women, especially any violent act that results in harm to or the death of a pregnant woman or her fetus, I have signed these bills into law.”

Most Democrats opposed the bills. They supported Mr. Warner’s original amendment that added the statement about Roe v. Wade.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said the governor was “comfortable” signing the bill because of Mr. Cosgrove and Mr. Stolle’s comments.

Last month, President Bush signed a similar federal law, called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Twenty-nine states have similar laws.

Mr. Stolle said the amendment did “no harm” to his bill, and asserted his bill “does not impact the abortion issue.”

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