Feticide bill up again

Published 11:25 pm Saturday, January 16, 2010

Suffolk Delegate Chris Jones (R-76) has once again introduced a bill intended to make it a crime for a pregnant woman to cause her own miscarriage.

The bill specifically exempts the use of medically approved contraceptives and legal abortions.

Jones said the bill, HB 986, is distinct from the abortion issue.

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“This is a very narrowly drawn bill, in my opinion,” Jones said Friday. The bill addresses a “situation where a mother knowingly takes the life of a full-term child, but hasn’t given birth to them yet,” he added.

Jones filed the bill in response to the trial of Tammy Skinner, a then-22-year-old Suffolk woman who allegedly shot herself in the stomach in February 2006, killing her full-term, unborn daughter. Skinner then lied about the incident to police, saying she had been carjacked and the perpetrator shot her. After investigation, police charged Skinner with illegally producing an abortion.

However, the charge was dismissed because a general district court judge said Virginia’s statute did not apply in her case because it does not specifically include the mother as a possible perpetrator. The current law reads, “Except as provided in other sections of this article, if any person administer to, or cause to be taken by a woman, any drug or other thing, or use means, with intent to destroy her unborn child, or to produce abortion or miscarriage, and thereby destroy such child, or produce such abortion or miscarriage, he shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.”

The judge interpreted the law to read that the pregnant woman herself was not prevented from producing the abortion or miscarriage. The case garnered national attention.

“When we changed the code years ago, we said fetus of another,” Jones said. “There was never any contemplation given to a mother taking the life of her own child when birth is imminent.”

This is the third time Jones has introduced the bill. He also filed it in the 2007 and 2008 legislative sessions. He skipped 2009, however, because he was “sure of its fate” in an unchanged Senate and because a limit on the number of bills he could introduce prevented it.

Each year, the bill has passed the House of Representatives, but failed in the Senate. In 2008 it was “very close in the Senate,” Jones said Friday.

Jones plans to meet with key legislators in coming weeks to explain the bill’s intent prior to its hearings. He is optimistic, but cautious.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” he said.