INDIANAPOLIS — State law is poised to recognize a fetus at any stage of development as an individual separate from its mother, if her pregnancy is terminated due to a violent crime or drunken driving.
Current Indiana statutes require a fetus to attain viability, or roughly 24 weeks gestation, before it is considered a separate person for prosecution of feticide, or a second count of murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter if both a pregnant woman and her fetus are killed.
Senate Enrolled Act 203 pushes that timeline back to the moment of conception and provides for either an additional charge for the death of the fetus if the perpetrator knew the woman was pregnant, or a 6- to 20-year penalty enhancement if the perpetrator did not.
The measure, which passed the Senate, 41-8, and the House, 96-0, specifies that it does not apply to a legal abortion or to a woman who otherwise chooses to terminate her own pregnancy.
"It all has everything to do with a third actor — a bad actor — the criminal defendant," said state Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, the sponsor.
Nevertheless, Hoosier anti-abortion groups believe the measure, if signed into law by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, is a step forward toward overturning the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
"The recognition of the worth of a child killed during a felony further places Roe v. Wade on a collision course with law and history," said Mike Fichter, president of Indiana Right to Life.
"We are committed to doubling down on efforts to bring about a majority on the Supreme Court that will strictly interpret the Constitution, dismantle Roe and provide full protection for all unborn children, including those who are targeted for abortion."
If enacted, the measure almost certainly will provoke a legal challenge, as the U.S. Supreme Court consistently has held that the state's interest in protecting life does not begin until a fetus reaches viability.
A 2017 analysis by The Times Media Co. determined that since 2011 Indiana has paid nearly $3 million in legal fees to the American Civil Liberties Union after the group succeeded in overturning unconstitutional state laws, primarily relating to abortion.