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California bill to protect pregnant women from liability stakes infanticide fears

Democratic legislators determined to make California a sanctuary a state for abortion have triggered a backlash with a bill that pro-life advocates contend crosses the line from codifying Roe to decriminalizing infanticide.

An estimated 1,500 activists converged Tuesday at the state Capitol in Sacramento to oppose Assembly Bill 2223, which prohibits a “pregnant person” from being prosecuted for the loss of a pregnancy from “miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion, or perinatal death due to a pregnancy -related cause.”

The legislation’s sponsor, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, has insisted that “this bill does not legalize infanticide,” calling such claims “absurd and disingenuous,” but that’s where she and abortion foes disagree.

“This bill is infanticide. Don’t let anybody tell you differently,” Theresa Brennan, president of the Pasadena-based Right to Life League, told the crowd at Tuesday’s rally.

Opponents have raised alarm over the term “perinatal,” which typically includes the postpartum stage. Ms. Wicks sought to clear up confusion earlier this month by tacking on “due to a pregnancy-related cause,” an amendment that failed to assuage the pro-life movement’s concerns.

“I saw a sign over here that had the [California] health and safety code,” Ms. Brennan said at the rally. “That code specifically says perinatal death is up to 30 days after [birth], and they amended it to say for ‘pregnancy-related causes,’ but that could be anything. Birth is a pregnancy-related cause.”

Jack Hibbs, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills pastor and founder of the advocacy group Real Impact, helped lead the “Oppose Infanticide” lobbying day, bringing out hundreds of volunteers Tuesday for training ahead of the Assembly Health Committee hearing on AB 2223.

“We cannot let this happen. This is the last stand for California. If we don’t wake up to stop murder, we will never wake up, it will be over for us,” said Mr. Hibbs as onlookers cheered and “People’s Convoy” truckers honked their horns in the background.

The flexing of pro-life muscle came as a reminder that not all Californians are on board as Democrats seek to position the state as a safe haven for abortion ahead of an anticipated Supreme Court upending of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

As Real Impact director Gina Gleason put it, “AB 2223 has awakened a sleeping giant.”

One of eight bills on the California Future of Abortion Council’s checklist for 2022, AB 2223 would eliminate civil and criminal liability for pregnancy loss; eliminate the requirement for coroners to determine a cause of death for newborns and provide a cause of private action for women facing civil or criminal liability.

“AB 2223 is intended to protect against the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes,” Ms. Wicks said in her April 5 testimony before the Assembly Judiciary Committee. “People should not be subject to prosecution for any tragic situation that may happen during their pregnancy.”

She gave examples of two California women, Adora Perez and Chelsea Becker, who served jail time after delivering stillborn babies whose deaths were linked to their mothers’ methamphetamine abuse. The charges in both cases were recently dropped.

Ms. Wicks blamed opponents for promoting “misinformation” about the bill.

“The opposition has created a narrative that this bill legalizes infanticide, or quote unquote, the killing of babies. That is simply not true,” she said. “This bill does not legalize infanticide. Specifically, as it relates to perinatal death, this bill protects parents who are experiencing extremely tragic pregnancy outcomes.”

In her corner are fact-checking outlets, including Reuters, AP, AFP and PolitiFact, which took issue with online headlines saying that the bill would allow infanticide or, as the Miami Standard put it, “allow mothers to kill their babies up to 7 days after birth.”

PolitiFact rated the claim “false” in an April 6 fact-check, but noted that Khiara M. Bridges, professor at UC Berkeley School of Law, said it would be helpful for lawmakers to define “perinatal” for purposes of the bill.

Wicks spokesperson Erin Ivie told PolitiFact that “the perinatal stage is the period following pregnancy, and it is currently undefined when it comes to duration.”

Also advocating for more clarity was Denise Burke, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel, who called the bill’s language “dangerously imprecise.”

“The plain text of this bill denies life-saving protections to newly born children by sanctioning ‘perinatal death due to a pregnancy-related cause,'” said Ms. Burke. “This dangerously imprecise language could lead to the legalization of infanticide throughout the state.

California’s leaders should reject the extreme ideology behind this proposal and embrace a culture of respect for life because life is a human right.”

Compounding those concerns is a section in the bill saying that “a person shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability … based on their actions or omissions,” spurring questions about whether “actions” includes intentional harm to a newborn.

If the coroner does decide to investigate the reasons for a fetal death, foes noted that the bill prohibits the findings from being used to prosecute “any person, whether or not they were the person who was pregnant with the fetus.”

“This law would leave babies born alive after a failed abortion vulnerable to murder or death by neglect,” said a joint statement from Real Impact, Capitol Resource Institute, and the California Family Council.

Prior to Tuesday’s event, Mr. Hibbs said he had heard from people planning to attend the rally from as far away as Colorado, Connecticut and Florida.

“I said, ‘I think I know why you’re going to come, but can I ask you why?'” he recounted. “And they were united in their response: ‘This is such a devastating bill that if it passes, we know what happens in California quickly comes to our state as well.'”

For Mr. Hibbs, the solution is obvious. He recommended that Ms. Wicks cut her losses and tank the legislation.

“All we want Buffy Wicks to do is pull her bill. Just pull it,” Mr. Hibbs said. “And all will be well. But if you don’t pull it, we’re holding you and all those who vote to forward this to the next committee accountable in the next election at the very least.”

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