Any criminal defendant who injures or kills a fetus at any stage of development will now face separate criminal charges for both the mother and fetus. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA), or Ethen’s Law (HB 215 ) passed both chambers and was signed into law on April 29, 2011 by Governor Perdue. While the bill does not apply to legal abortions, it conveys legal status to any fetus unable to survive outside their mother’s womb.
Ethen’s Law was named after the unborn son of Jennifer Nielsen, who was murdered along with her unborn baby in 2007. “This bill was about the invisible: the women of NC who have been murdered — some high profile, some not — in many cases because they were pregnant,” Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) stated. “We know that Ethen’s law will punish, and if it prevents one death, it will be worth it.”
Under the state legislation, the killing of an unborn child at any stage of development will be defined as murder, a Class A felony, punishable by life in prison without parole. The UVVA also includes provisions for acts in which the unborn child is harmed during the commission of a crime against the mother but do not result in death. Furthermore, the bill does not require that the attacker know the woman was pregnant in order to face criminal charges for the fetus’ injuries.
Ethen’s Law will take effect December 1, 2011 when North Carolina will join 35 other states and the federal government in recognizing a fetus as an additional victim of crime. North Carolina will be the 26th state to include complete coverage, providing legal status to the fetus at any time after conception.