House votes to extend murder laws to embryos

Posted on April 18, 2012


The Tennessean, April 18, 2012 by Chas Sisk

The state House of Representatives approved a bill extending homicide and assault laws to embryos in the earliest stages of development, sending the issue to the Senate.

House lawmakers voted 80-18 for House Bill 3517, which supporters said will clarify that a law passed last year extending criminal punishments for harming a fetus would apply to the first eight weeks of pregnancy. Opponents said charges against harming an embryo would be difficult to prove and that the measure is really meant to recognize personhood from the moment of conception.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on companion legislation Thursday.

The bill specifically recognizes embryos, the stage of development between a fertilized egg and a fetus.

The state has long allowed prosecutors to bring two murder or assault charges when someone harms a pregnant woman and a fetus that can survive on its own outside the womb. Last year, state lawmakers voted to extend those statutes to cover any fetus.

State Rep. Joshua Evans, R-Greenbrier, said the intention then had been to cover all stages after conception.

“We’re talking about clarifying … not changing the law,” he said.

But opponents said the bill would make major changes to state law.

Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, told lawmakers that as many as half of fertilized eggs fail to advance beyond the embryo stage because of inherent defects. She predicted it would be difficult and costly for prosecutors to prove that an embryo miscarried because of someone else’s actions, rather than naturally.

“It is nature’s way, God’s way, of protecting our species,” she said. “I think your original bill may have been OK and we voted for that. I think extending that would be iffy.”

Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, said the bill would give “veiled support” to the anti-abortion movement by establishing that embryos can be crime victims.

“It is not the same bill” as last year’s, she said. “It passed unanimously last year under different circumstances, different terminology.”

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