State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton (Pic by Office of Senate President, via flsenate.gov)

A bill that would add a criminal offense if someone were to kill a woman and her “unborn child” through vehicular manslaughter was postponed this morning after a debate over the measure’s possible legal implications.

The law, the “Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” was particularly troubling to members of a Florida Senate criminal justice committee because it changed the definition of an “unborn child.” Previously, an “unborn child” meant a viable fetus. The bill, as written, defines the term “unborn child” as “unborn offspring of a human being at any stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.”

State Sens. Gwen Margolis, Mike Bennett and Chris Smith said they were concerned the bill would interfere with reproductive rights.

Margolis, D-Miami, said she was unsure what the bill was really about. ”I think this is an abortion bill,” she said. “I really don’t understand.”

Committee chair and the co-introducer of the bill — state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola — assured her it was not about abortion. He said the bill was written to create a criminal offense in cases of vehicular manslaughter only.

The bill began to hit a snag, however, when staff was asked to comment on whether having a law on the books that would define an “unborn child” as something other than a viable fetus would effect case law, but was unable to give a conclusive answer.

Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he was “touchy” about choice issues and was worried that the change to the definition of an “unborn child” would affect a “woman’s right to choose” in the future.

“What is going to be the ramification, in your estimation?” he asked staff. “Are we going down a dangerous path … for those of us that are pro-choice?”

A member of the staff told the senator, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Smith, D-Oakland Park, said he was concerned the state could enter a court challenge after enacting the law.

Concerns were echoed by other members of the committee before the lawmakers moved to postpone the bill until there is a better understanding of its ramifications. Such “Unborn Victims of Violence” bills, or fetal homicide bills, are championed by many anti-abortion groups.

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