A proposed bill in California is drawing criticism from some people online amid claims that it legalizes “infanticide." This comes as opponents of a similar bill in Maryland have falsely claimed that the legislation would allow the killing of newborns.
Headlines from several online magazines (here and here) claim that California Assembly Bill 2223 would allow people to kill their babies up to 7 days after birth, and social media users have repeated the claim. VERIFY viewer Cierra also texted the team to ask whether that’s true.
Does a California bill allow people to kill their babies up to 7 days after birth?
No, a California bill does not allow people to kill their babies up to 7 days after birth.
WHAT WE FOUND
California Assembly Bill 2223 (AB 2223) would do away with requirements for a coroner to investigate deaths related to or following suspected self-induced or criminal abortions in the state of California. These requirements are from an earlier time when “abortion was an offense in the California Penal Code, provisions which were repealed more than two decades ago,” Farah Diaz-Tello, senior attorney and legal director for If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, said.
The bill would also prohibit using a coroner’s statements on a fetal death certificate for prosecution in civil or criminal cases.
Some critics have pointed to language in the bill that ends the criminalization of “perinatal death” as evidence for their claims about the legislation allowing infanticide. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines perinatal as “occurring in, concerned with, or being in the period around the time of birth.”
Erin Ivie, a spokesperson for bill co-sponsor Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, said the length of time for the perinatal stage isn’t defined in the bill. Wicks has also filed an amendment to the bill to “clarify that the inclusion of the word ‘perinatal’ is specifically to protect women from being prosecuted for a pregnancy-related cause,” Ivie said.
Part of the amended bill now reads as follows, with changes in italics:
“Notwithstanding any other law, a person shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability or penalty, or otherwise deprived of their rights under this article, based on their actions or omissions with respect to their pregnancy or actual, potential, or alleged pregnancy outcome, including miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion, or perinatal death due to a pregnancy-related cause.”
“The bill is specific to pregnancy and pregnancy related outcomes, and does not decriminalize the ‘murder of babies’ in the weeks after birth. As it relates to the perinatal period mentioned in the bill language, the intention is to protect parents who experience the trauma of losing a baby after delivery as a result of a pregnancy-related issue,” Ivie wrote in an email to VERIFY.
The language of the bill “is clear that it protects such losses that are a ‘pregnancy outcome,’ and was further reinforced to specify that the protection applies to losses ‘due to a pregnancy-related cause,’” Diaz-Tello added.
“Anti-abortion activists are peddling an absurd and disingenuous argument that this bill is about killing newborns, when ironically, the part of the bill they’re pointing to is about protecting and supporting parents experiencing the grief of pregnancy loss,” Wicks said in a statement. “No person should face prison time for a tragic pregnancy outcome, and this bill will ensure that prosecutions and investigations have no place in reproductive health care.”
Ivie provided a real-life example where prosecutors argued they could charge a woman for her child’s death because she was not wearing a seatbelt during a car crash. The baby was delivered by emergency preterm C-section, and lived for a few days before passing away.
Ivie also gave examples of recent cases where two California women, Chelsea Becker and Adora Perez, were prosecuted and imprisoned over stillbirths. The women allegedly caused the deaths of their infants after taking drugs. The “fetal murder” charges against Becker and Perez were eventually dismissed or vacated.
A little more than one month before AB 2223 was introduced, California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a legal alert to all district attorneys, police chiefs and sheriffs in the state saying that women should not be charged with murder for miscarriages or stillbirth, similar to the prosecutions of Becker and Perez.
“With reproductive rights under attack in this country, it is important that we make it clear: Here in California, we do not criminalize the loss of a pregnancy,” Bonta said in a statement in January 2022.
AB 2223 recently moved to health committee hearings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.