The California Assembly Health Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that strengthened laws preventing the prosecution of pregnant people for pregnancy loss.
The bill would allow pregnant people to sue prosecutors for "erroneously charging them with crimes related to pregnancy losses". California Attorney General Robert Bonta issued a legal alert in January, instructing prosecutors and police to not pursue charges against people who miscarry or deliver stillbirths.
The bill comes after two Kings County women Adora Perez, and Chelsea Becker were charged with “fetal murder” for allegedly causing the stillbirth of their fetuses. The charges against Becker were dropped in May 2021, and on March 17, a federal judge overturned Perez’s conviction and 11-year prison sentence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fetal deaths at or after 20 weeks are stillbirths and deaths exceeding that time frame are miscarriages.
Under current law, all fetal deaths at or after 20 weeks, with the exception of abortions, are treated as “unattended deaths” in California, requiring a coroner to investigate.
Pregnancy loss is common for those who suffer a miscarriage early in their pregnancy and for those who experience a late-term stillbirth. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 10% of known pregnancies are lost during the first trimester while stillbirths occur in 1 in 160 deliveries in the United States.
“The loss of a pregnancy at any stage is a physically and emotionally traumatic experience that should not be exacerbated by the threat of being charged with murder,” Bonta wrote in the legal alert.
Under the bill, District Attorneys' offices could face a $25,000 fine and other damages as determined by a judge or a jury.
With U.S Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe V. Wade looming over the nation, California and Democratic-led states are passing new abortion laws that would increase access or strengthen protections.
Republican-led states are passing bans or restrictions.
If overturned, abortion would automatically become illegal in at least 13 states. The U.S Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in June.