Topeka Prosecutors could charge someone with murder, manslaughter or battery for intentionally harming a fetus under a bill that won House approval Wednesday and went to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
The proposed "Alexa's Law," named for the fetus of a 14-year-old Wichita girl murdered last year, had strong backing from abortion opponents. But an abortion rights leader called it "a step backwards" in protecting women.
The House vote was 97-27 and came three weeks after the Senate approved the measure. Sebelius is a strong abortion rights supporter but hasn't declared whether she'll sign or veto the bill.
"As bills move through the legislative process, they sometimes change along the way, and we'll need to take a careful look before weighing in," said spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran.
The goal of supporters is that when a pregnant woman is attacked, prosecutors would be allowed to charge her assailant with a crime against her and a separate crime against the baby she's carrying. State law makes injuring a pregnant woman a felony, but it doesn't treat the fetus as a second victim.
The bill says the definition of "person" for nine crimes includes an "unborn child" at any stage of development in the womb. Those crimes are capital, first-degree and second-degree murder; vehicular homicide; voluntary and involuntary manslaughter; battery and aggravated battery; and manslaughter while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Abortion rights advocates disagree that mothers-to-be will have the same legal protections, because the bill repeals the laws against injury to a pregnant woman.
"It only gives protection for the fetus. There is absolutely no protection for the woman," said Julie Burkhart, a lobbyist for ProKanDo, an abortion rights group. "The state legislators here decided to take a step backwards, and women are not well served."
Abortion rights advocates also see the bill as a step toward banning abortions and contend that is why it's important to anti-abortion groups like Kansans for Life. Their fears intensified, Burkhart said, after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last week upholding a federal ban on a late-term procedure that critics call "partial-birth" abortion.