Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/06/2004 03:40 PM Senate STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 219-OFFENSES AGAINST UNBORN CHILDREN CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced SB 219 to be up for consideration. SENATOR FRED DYSON, sponsor, explained that this bill models other legislation enacted in other states. It says that if a perpetrator murders or assaults a pregnant woman and causes damage or death to the unborn child then the perpetrator may be charged with two crimes. AS 11.41 is amended to accommodate the model legislation adding manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide of an unborn child. An abortion or other customary and standard procedures are specifically exempted from penalty under this law. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked for a comparison to the federal law. SENATOR DYSON replied they are similar in wording, but he introduced this because the federal law goes forward only in federal jurisdictions or in the commission of a federal crime. SENATOR STEDMAN referred to page 1, lines 6, 8, and 12 and asked why line 12 didn't include the words "with intent" as lines 6 and 8 do. SENATOR DYSON explained that arson, kidnapping, and sexual assault are hard to infer that there is intent to harm the unborn child. WES KELLER, staff to Senator Dyson, pointed out that the operational clause is found on page 2, line 4. SENATOR STEDMAN referred to page 2, line 27 and asked about the selection of the verbage "unborn child" rather than "fetus" and whether the selection might not cause problems. MR. KELLER said the language is purposeful. He could show case law from other states indicating that the terminology didn't make any difference in how the court ruled. It's just that Fetus is Latin and he prefers to use plain language so the layperson is able to understand. SENATOR STEDMAN restated the intent and said he assumes it's a direct result of the well-publicized and reprehensible California case. SENATOR DYSON agreed. KAREN VOSBERG, executive director, AK Right to Life, distributed copies of a petition that was signed by over 1,000 people, at the Palmer State Fair stating that they believe that if a pregnant woman is murdered there are two victims rather than one. CHAIR GARY STEVENS wanted to clarify that the people that signed the petition were in support of the bill. MS. VOSBERG agreed then said the federal law was signed into law April 1, 2004. Prior to this act, an unborn child was not recognized as a victim of a violent crime. To date more than 29 states have signed similar legislation, which has no affect on legal abortion, she said. She urged passage of the bill. CASSANDRA JOHNSON, executive director of the AK Pro-Choice Alliance testified via teleconference to say that this bill isn't about protecting pregnant women because it doesn't increase the charges for assaulting pregnant women. Also there is no exemption in the bill for the woman who inadvertently causes harm to her fetus due to alcohol use, poor nutrition or attempted suicide. This is the wrong approach, she said, and urged the committee not to pass the bill. PAULINE UTTER testified via teleconference to urge that the committee not pass the bill and read a letter from Anna Quinlan stating the same. KEVIN CLARKSON, attorney, testified via teleconference in support of the bill. The purpose of the act is to extend to unborn children, the same protection of the criminal law that applies to those who have been born alive. Referring to Senator Stedman's earlier question regarding no intent language in subsection 3, he stated that is because that is the typical felony murder provision and the intent is already provided by the underlying felony offense. He gave examples of voids in the law that the bill seeks to fill and stated that the bill doesn't involve abortion. He urged passage of the bill. 4:20 p.m. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked whether he would comment on the concern that there is no exemption in the bill in cases of alcoholism, attempted suicide or if a woman didn't know she was pregnant. MR. CLARKSON replied there are intent requirements in the bill that must be met before the charge can be levied. The opportunity for the act to be applied against a woman who wants her child, but is negligent in causing the death of her child is a stretch, he opined. ROBIN SMITH testified via teleconference from Anchorage that the bill is the latest attempt by the Alaska Legislature to limit reproductive freedom. She said the language in the bill makes it clear that it is not about protecting pregnant women. It is about giving separate, legal rights to the fetus thereby undermining a woman's right to reproductive freedom. She urged the committee to hold the bill. VICKI HALCRO, Anchorage director of public affairs and marketing for Planned Parenthood of Alaska, testified via teleconference in opposition to SB 219. 4:30 p.m. TAPE 04-26, SIDE B She said that the dangerous reality of the bill is that it vests a fetus with the rights of the pregnant woman, which is the first step in eroding a woman's right to choose. Nowhere in the legislation is harm to a pregnant woman resulting from an involuntary termination of her pregnancy mentioned. In fact, women are not mentioned at all in the bill yet violence against women continues to be a huge problem in Alaska. The bill shifts the focus away from the women who are really the victims of these crimes. She urged the committee to hold the bill. REGINA MONTEUFEL testified via teleconference from Anchorage in opposition to the bill. She runs a rooming house in Anchorage and has lost track of the number of women that have had abortions in her rooming house. The stories are all tragic. It's sad that this is a state that doesn't spend more effort on preventing abortions and addressing domestic violence. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked her to speak to the bill. MS.MONTEUFEL said she is against the bill. JENNIFER RUDINGER, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, testified via teleconference and said most of the points she was going to cover were covered by Robin Smith, Vicky Halcro, Cassandra Johnson and Pauline Utter. She said she couldn't find the language Mr. Clarkson said was present exempting a pregnant woman from prosecution from harming her own fetus. If that's the intent of the bill, then the bill should be amended, she suggested. She said she would like to go on record in opposition to SB 219 because the bill is misguided. There are better ways to prosecute people who commit violent crimes against pregnant women. REPRESENTATIVE BOB LYNN testified in support of SB 219 saying there is a similar bill in the House. There was no further testimony. SENATOR COWDERY made a motion to move SB 219 with accompanying fiscal notes and asked for individual recommendations and unanimous consent. There being no objection, it was so ordered.