Cross-sourced from Sydney Morning Herald
PEOPLE could be charged with killing or hurting unborn children under a controversial new law set to be considered in Parliament.
The proposed legislation has been named Zoe’s Law in honour of the unborn child of Brodie Donegan, a central coast woman who was eight months pregnant on Christmas Day in 2009 when a driver on drugs ran over her.
Zoe was stillborn as a result of the injuries suffered by her mother, but the driver was not charged with Zoe’s death because the law did not recognise her as a person.
”I think it’s about the victims feeling that someone has taken responsibility for the baby losing its life,” Ms Donegan said on Saturday. ”It’s important for the victims to feel like their baby mattered and counted.”
One version of the law is being proposed by the Christian Democratic MLC Fred Nile, who claims the problematic bill has been the subject of close consultation with the Attorney-General’s office for two years. A senior government source confirmed it would be considered but it was not certain whether the bill would gain the full support of cabinet.
The existing law defines harm against a foetus as an aggravated assault against the mother. But the new law would create a distinct criminal offence over harm to an unborn child other than in medical procedures, such as abortion.
If Mr Nile’s Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2012 is adopted, it would create the potential for someone to be charged with manslaughter if they caused a woman to lose her baby.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General, Greg Smith, said: ”Mr Nile’s bill is yet to be considered by cabinet, which will determine the government’s position.”
The shadow attorney-general, Paul Lynch, said Mr Nile’s proposed bill was unnecessary. An amendment to the NSW Crimes Act was introduced in 2005 to extend the definition of ”grievous bodily harm” to cover the destruction of a foetus, other than in a medical procedure, whether or not the woman suffers any other harm.
But the passage of the laws has become conflated with Mr Nile’s anti-abortion views. He said he wanted to take the legal protection for unborn children ”one step further”. He said it would help in cases when a pregnant woman was kicked in the stomach or hurt in a car accident when someone else was at fault.
Ms Donegan said she had never been consulted by Mr Nile and she was wary of his bill. Her understanding was the bill would seek to recognise unborn babies from the point of conception. She said this risked throwing abortion laws into chaos as well as igniting debate about when a foetus should be considered a baby.
”I was quite shocked by what Fred Nile has proposed,” she said. ”What we want has nothing to do with abortion; we support a woman’s right to have an abortion.
”We lost our baby unwillingly in a completely different context. We just want Zoe’s Law to be as practical and logical as possible without religion at all coming into it.”
She supports the efforts of Liberal member for The Entrance, Chris Spence, who said he had approached the government with Ms Donegan’s suggestions. Mr Spence said he was concerned Mr Nile had not consulted Ms Donegan. ”I will be looking at all of the options available including the potential drafting of an entirely new bill.”
Law ‘needs’ changing
Brodie Donegan was 32 weeks pregnant with her second child and taking a walk with her first child, Ashlee, when a woman on a cocktail of drugs veered her van off the road and ran into her. It was Christmas Day, 2009.
Zoe was stillborn as a result of the injuries suffered by her mother, which included a shattered pelvis, thigh, spine and foot.
But the driver, who was uninjured, was not charged for Zoe’s death because the law did not recognise Zoe as a person. She was instead jailed for nine months for causing Ms Donegan grievous bodily harm.