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Coverage for unborn children up in air

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Lawmakers failed to act on a bill that would have amended Indiana's child wrongful death statute to cover unborn children, thus defeating it for this legislative session in its current form.

Authored by Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, Senate Bill 341 would have expanded the state statute on civil wrongful death claims to include fetuses that otherwise would have been considered "viable," or about the seven-month stage of pregnancy.

Becker has repeatedly sought this change since 2002, when the Indiana Supreme Court decided Bolin v. Wingert, 764 N.E. 2d 201 (Ind. 2002), and changed the scope of the state's Child Wrongful Death Act as it applies to unborn children. Justices determined that a 10-week-old fetus didn't fit the definition of "child" because the legislature that drafted the statute in 1881 only intended for babies born alive to be covered.

With this 2009 legislation, the Senate had voted 47-2 in favor of it in February and the bill made it through committee on the House side, but then it stalled before the full House when an amendment attempted to change its scope. The original bill would have covered any "viable" fetuses, but three separate amendments in recent weeks all pushed to include any "child in utero" - defined as a fetus at any stage of development who is carried in the womb. Those offering amendments were Sens. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville; Wes Culver, R-Goshen; and David Yarde, R-Garrett. Yarde also offered changes to include abortion language such as what isn't covered and what doctors must inform women about those procedures.

None of those senators' proposed changes were adopted, and the House sponsors Reps. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, and Trent VanHaaften, D-Mt. Vernon, withdrew the bill three times, most recently on Tuesday. SB 341 wasn't on the calendar for the deadline day Wednesday and is effectively dead in its current form. Neither Becker, Welch, nor VanHaaften could be immediately reached today for comment on the legislation.

However, that inaction comes as the General Assembly is passing similar language relating to criminal law coverage of unborn children. On April 6, the House voted 96-0 in favor of Senate Bill 236 increasing the penalty for fetal homicide relating to unborn children at any stage of development. That bill enhances the criminal feticide penalty from the current two- to six-year term to a six- to 20-year penalty, and also allows for an additional six- to 20-year prison term for anyone convicted of murder or attempted murder if they cause pregnancy loss. That bill has returned to the Senate for considerations of an amendment replacing references to the death of a child in utero with new language referring to the termination of a human pregnancy, matching existing language in the state's feticide law.

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