This may be the worst story of the year, at least in reference to domestic policy and crime. How bad is it? When Matt of Creative Minority Report tipped me to it this morning, I had to track it down to make sure it was on the level. A woman in Campbell County, Virginia smothered her newborn infant, and police are powerless to do anything about it:

The caller said a woman in her early 20s was in labor. When deputies arrived, they discovered the baby had actually been born around 1:00a.m., about ten hours earlier. Investigators say the baby was already dead when deputies got there.

Investigators tell WSLS the baby’s airway was still blocked. They say the baby was under bedding and had been suffocated by her mother. Investigators say because the mother and baby were still connected by the umbilical cord and placenta, state law does not consider the baby to be a separate life. Therefore, the mother cannot be charged.

“In the state of Virginia as long as the umbilical cord is attached and the placenta is still in the mother, if the baby comes out alive the mother can do whatever she wants to with that baby to kill it.“, says Investigator Tracy Emerson. “She could shoot the baby, stab the baby. As long as it’s still attached to her in some form by umbilical cord or something it’s no crime in the state of Virginia.“

Law enforcement officials have repeatedly attempted to get the law changed, asking state legislators to do something about the gap in protection for newborns. Why have Virginia legislators failed to act? They’re afraid of running afoul of the abortion industry:

The Campbell County Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office worked unsuccessfully to get the law changed after another baby died in the county in a similar case. Emerson says they asked two delegates and one state senator to take the issue up in the General Assembly. He says the three lawmakers refused because they felt the issue was too close to the abortion issue.

Er, what? I’m not aware of fourth-trimester abortions being legal anywhere in the US. In fact, I doubt that third-trimester abortions are legal in Virginia, either. Ironically, if the baby had been killed by someone else in an assault on the mother before its birth, that person would have been charged with murder, which sets up a really interesting double standard. Are legislators in Virginia so afraid of the abortion industry that they can’t take steps to protect full-term babies after their birth? Sounds like Virginians need a new class of lawmakers.

Update
: Caleb Howe Tweets that one state legislator is now on the case:

State Senator Steve Newman announced today that the Division of Legislative Services has begun drafting legislation to ensure that a life cannot be legally taken after a child is born not withstanding its connection to the umbilical cord.

The bill will amend Section 18.2 of the Code of Virginia which is the criminal code. Newman stated, “It is difficult to believe that the current Code could have such a flaw that would allow anyone to take the life of a born child. While I will not comment at this time on the case in Campbell County, it is abundantly clear that Virginians will demand a legislative cure to this loophole. I have consulted with the Attorney General Elect, Ken Cuccinelli; Campbell County Commonwealth Attorney, Neil Vener; Campbell County Sheriff Terry Gaddy and the investigator in the case, Tracy Emerson. All have indicated their full support for this legislation.

We should keep an eye on this to make sure it gets signed into law.

Update II: A critic says that the report from WSLS is false, and that the law does cover this situation. But that critic doesn’t live in Virginia, and doesn’t explain how WSLS, the law enforcement agency, the state legislator, and the attorney general all got it wrong, too. After all, if the law covered the situation, the legislator wouldn’t have needed to introduce legislation to fix it and the AG, the county’s attorney, and the sheriff wouldn’t have endorsed it. At any rate, the facts to which I linked were reported by WSLS and confirmed by all of the above, all of whom are better sources than the critic in question.

Update III: Dave from Reno sends the following, emphases added by me:

1) The quote from the news story that talks about the problem being the exclusion of the mother:

“Emerson tells us there’s a double standard with the law. If someone other than the mother harms a baby still attached to the mother, that person can be charged.”

2) The statute in the Virginia code that Emerson is referring to:

18.2-32.2. Killing a fetus; penalty.
A. Any person who unlawfully, willfully, deliberately, maliciously and with premeditation kills the fetus of another is guilty of a Class 2 felony.
B. Any person who unlawfully, willfully, deliberately and maliciously kills the fetus of another is guilty of a felony punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for not less than five nor more than 40 years.
(2004, cc. 1023, 1026.)

Note that it refers to “the fetus of another”, the use of the word “another” apparently allows the mother to kill her own fetus.

3) The article says that they tried to change the law, but the lawmakers wouldn’t take it up:

“The Campbell County Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office worked unsuccessfully to get the law changed after another baby died in the county in a similar case. Emerson says they asked two delegates and one state senator to take the issue up in the General Assembly. He says the three lawmakers refused because they felt the issue was too close to the abortion issue.”

4) I believe I have found the proposed law. It was HB 1631, and was introduced in the 2007 session, but never made it to the House for a vote.

You can find the history of the bill at the link below, as well as a PDF of the bill itself, which is designed to change 18.2-32.2 to remove the words, “of another”.

Note this sentence in the summary:

“Currently the act of unlawfully killing a fetus as described in this statute is a crime only if the fetus is the fetus “of another.”

5) Finally, here is the Virginia House of Delegates legislative schedule for 2007, where you can find HB 1631 listed as being referred to the Committee for Courts of Justice, where, per the status page, it died.

Thanks, Dave!

Tags: Virginia