California Bill Amended to Address Claims It ‘Decriminalized Infanticide’

Multiple media fact-checkers had dismissed objections to A.B. 2223, but the Assembly Appropriations Committee amended the bill to clarify its intent.

California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, takes part in a CNN panel discussion during Politicon at the Pasadena Convention Center on July 29, 2017, in Pasadena, California.
California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, takes part in a CNN panel discussion during Politicon at the Pasadena Convention Center on July 29, 2017, in Pasadena, California. (photo: Joshua Blanchard / Getty Images for Politicon)

Last month, a controversial bill proposed by California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, provoked an outcry from pro-life organizations and activists in the state, and hundreds registered their objections, crowding into an April 19 hearing at the statehouse in Sacramento. 

Assemblymember Wicks said the bill was designed to protect women dealing with miscarriage, the stillborn death of an infant or self-induced abortion from criminal prosecution, after two California women faced charges for using methamphetamine during pregnancy.

But critics countered that the bill weakened protections for newborn infants, leaving some more vulnerable to neglect, abuse and abandonment. 

A slew of media fact-checkers concluded that pro-life claims were unfounded and ruled them to be “false” or a “misinterpretation” of the bill’s intent.

Now the state’s Assembly Appropriations Committee has acceded to pro-life demands in an unexpected  development in the Democrat-controlled legislature, a stronghold of abortion advocacy. 

“Today, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ A.B. 2223, which came to be known as the ‘infanticide bill,’ was amended in the Assembly Appropriations Committee to confirm that a woman will not be investigated or charged for experiencing miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, or ‘perinatal death due to causes that occurred in utero,’” the California Catholic Conference reported in a statement released last week.

"This change definitely closes the door on potential unintended consequences of permitting infant deaths due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment, alleviating the concerns that the CCC brought to the author’s attention.”

While media fact-checkers had disputed the need for more explicit language protecting vulnerable infants, 

Kathleen Domingo, the executive director of the California Catholic Conference, told the Register that her organization had continued to work with Assemblymember Wicks’ office, insisting that the language needed to be modified.

At issue is one part of the A.B. 2223, Section 7a, which initially stated, “Notwithstanding any other law, a person shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability or penalty, or otherwise deprived of their rights, 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.”

The bill does not define “perinatal death,” though Domingo noted that the term is generally used to describe “the period from approximately past 22 (or 28) completed weeks of pregnancy up to 7 completed days of life.” But in response to pro-life objections, Wicks initially amended the bill to read, “perinatal death due to a pregnancy-related cause,” language pro-lifers said was still too vague.

“In earlier iterations of the bill’s language, the door was left open, even if only slightly, that a death of an infant could still be construed as ‘pregnancy related’ if it were seen to be a result of postpartum mental health disorder,” Domingo reported.

She noted that the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s analysis of the bill, dated April 5, “agreed that the terminology ‘perinatal death’ was unclear and could lead to ‘undesirable conclusions.’”

That critique, said Domingo, underscored the need for “an abundance of caution,” and the conference continued to reach out to Wicks to address the problem, even as the bill advanced through the State Assembly and earned endorsements from the state’s powerful abortion lobby.

“Assemblymember Wicks maintained, throughout the amendment process, that she did not intend for this bill to extend protections beyond pregnancy but to only apply to pregnancy-related incidences of abortion, stillbirth or miscarriage,” said Domingo.

“Because that was the author’s stated intention, we continued to work with [her] office to assist in refining the language to match her intention and definitively close the door to protections for infanticide. It was also clear that Assemblymember Wicks was receiving unwanted opposition for her bill and was agreeable to finding a solution that would clarify the language to match her intention.”

As a result of A.B. 2223’s newly modified language, the California Catholic Conference announced that it had withdrawn its opposition, while noting that state law already barred fetal homicide and provided protections for infants born alive following abortion.

“The State of California Health and Safety Code already states that a baby born alive after a failed abortion needs to be provided the same care of another infant of a similar age, and the Code also maintains protections against fetal homicide,” read a statement issued by the CCC.

And while a number of pro-life organizations in the state continue to oppose Wicks’ bill, Domingo emphasized that the conference’s position reflected the “Church’s long tradition,” and that “we encourage a restorative justice approach for women who have experienced abortion and are not interested in prosecuting women for abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth.”

The Right to Life League of Southern California signaled its ongoing opposition to A.B. 2223 in a May 20 “open letter” to the state  legislature. 

“A.B. 2223’s amended language — ‘perinatal death due to causes that occurred in utero’ — does nothing to change the bill’s protections for anyone who kills a baby born alive during the first 28 days of life,” read the letter.

“It justifies and excuses the intent to kill a baby born alive by pointing to vague, blanket occurrences that happened at some unundefined time prior to the baby’s birth.”

The Right to Life League also attacked provisions in the bill that allegedly “chill all investigation of the cause of any newborn’s death up to 28 days old, makes a coroner’s report useless, and intimidates investigators with a civil cause of action against them that can include punitive damages.”

For more information on this specific charge, see my April 20 article on A.B. 2223 here.

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