- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

RICHMOND — The House of Delegates today will give final consideration to a bill that would make it illegal to kill an unborn child against a mother’s wishes.

In a voice vote split along party lines, the House tentatively endorsed the bill, moving it to a third reading and final vote today.

Yesterday, delegates debated the merits of the fetus homicide bill, which is sponsored by Delegate John A. Cosgrove, Chesapeake Republican.

Many Democrats said the bill is too vague and could indirectly make abortion a crime.

If the bill passes, it will go to the Senate for debate. A similar bill in the Senate is scheduled for consideration next week.

Mr. Cosgrove said current law requires prosecutors to prove that a person specifically intends to cause harm to an unborn child, which he said is “virtually impossible” to do.

Mr. Cosgrove cited the case of a Chesapeake woman who was beaten, strangled and drowned when she was 81/2 months pregnant. Prosecutors were unable to charge her assailant with the death of her unborn child.

“He could not be charged with murder of her 81/2-month-old unborn child. Melissa and Catherine were buried together. It is something our city and many in the commonwealth still remember,” Mr. Cosgrove said yesterday on the House floor.

The bill states that fetal homicide is murder when the person who killed the child did so with malice. It also stipulates that abortion is not considered murder.

A person who maliciously kills an unborn child during a deliberate assault on the mother faces up to life in prison under the bill’s provisions. The bill was amended on the floor to make it a lesser felony if the fetus dies during a “heat of passion” assault — that is, an attack without malice.

Democrats fought the amendment, saying it could leave open the door to prosecute abortion doctors or parents who force their pregnant, underage daughters to have an abortion.

Delegate Johnny S. Joannou, Portsmouth Democrat, asked Delegate Robert F. McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican, if the bill is constitutional.

“If we say that someone kills a fetus and this is murder, can you murder someone that is not a living human being?” Mr. Joannou said.

Mr. McDonnell responded, “No,” then said he thinks the bill is constitutional.

The bill was part of state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore’s legislative agenda for the session.

There are 28 states that have murder laws that consider unborn children as victims.

In 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” and a similar measure is pending in the U.S. Senate.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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