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Florida toughens law on hurting fetus, after abortion pill trick

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott on Friday signed into law harsher penalties for crimes in which a fetus is harmed or killed, no matter how early in the pregnancy.

The legislation drew passionate support this spring from a Florida woman whose boyfriend tricked her into taking pills known to induce abortion during the initial weeks of a pregnancy.

The new law allows offenders to be charged with a separate crime for causing harm to a fetus at any stage of development, even if the perpetrator did not know the woman was pregnant.

Prior Florida law applied only in limited circumstances and when the fetus was far enough along to survive outside the womb.

"There is no timeline anymore for justice for an unborn child of a pregnant woman," said the bill's Republican sponsor, state Representative Larry Ahern.

Florida becomes the 38th state allowing a separate charge for the death of a fetus during a crime against the mother, according to a legislative bill analysis. The laws in other states take effect at different developmental stages.

Lobbying for the Florida law's passage this spring was Remee Jo Lee, who lost a pregnancy at nearly seven weeks gestation after her boyfriend gave her pills known to induce abortion, which he put in a bottle labeled as an antibiotic.

Boyfriend John Welden was charged under the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act. But in a deal with federal prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of tampering with a consumer product resulting in bodily injury and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. He was sentenced to serve more than 13 years in prison.

The new state law would have given Florida prosecutors more options for charging him under state law. But the new law does not affect women choosing to terminate a pregnancy, said Republican state Senator Kelli Stargel, who also sponsored the legislation.

"You're wanting that baby and someone violently takes it from you - it needs to be a crime," she said.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Eric Beech and David Gregorio)

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