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Freshman state Rep. Leon Rideout to sponsor fetal homicide bill

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 15. 2013 9:46PM

A freshman state representative whose daughter lost her unborn child in a traffic accident said he will sponsor a bill next year to make it a crime to kill an unborn baby in assaults or accidents such as the multiple traffic fatality in Lebanon on Dec. 7.

The fetal homicide legislation would exempt abortions but apply to cases where a crime leads to the death of an unborn child, said state Rep. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster.

Two years ago, similar legislation passed by wide margins in the House and Senate, which were both Republican at the time, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.

"Basically, I'm pro-life, but as I tell people, I'm not under the illusion I can change or overturn Roe vs. Wade. It's not my intent," Rideout said last week. He said his bill would allow for prosecutions when an unborn child that a mother has chosen to keep is killed.

Last week, homicide prosecutors charged Sunapee resident Robert Dellinger with two counts of manslaughter in the Dec. 7 collision on Interstate 89, which killed Vermont residents Amanda Murphy, 24, and Jason Timmons, 29.

Murphy was eight months pregnant, but prosecutors said they did not bring a third charge of manslaughter against Dellinger. New Hampshire state law does not allow for charges in such a case; 38 other states allow for criminal charges when an unborn baby is killed during the commission of a crime.

In 2009, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in the Lamy case that a fetus must be born alive and have an existence separate and independent of the mother for charges to be brought in its death.

Efforts to pass a fetal homicide law have typically failed in New Hampshire, in part because of opposition from abortion-rights groups and trial lawyers.

Supporters believed they came close last year; a House effort to override Lynch's veto fell short by a handful of votes.

In a prepared statement, a spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan said she extends her deepest sympathy to the family and loved ones of Murphy and Timmons and supports the prosecution underway.

"The issues raised by this case are complex and multifaceted, and the Governor will listen to all points of view and closely evaluate the legal, scientific and moral implications of any related bill as it moves through the legislative process," Marc Goldberg, the governor's spokesman, wrote in an email.

Messages left with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England last week were not returned.

Rideout said his daughter was in an accident on June 4 in North Stratford. Ashlyn Rideout, 22, was 7-1/2 months pregnant when a 17-year-old collided with her car.

Rideout said his daughter was taken to Littleton Regional Hospital. Doctors wanted to take her by helicopter to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, but when efforts to stabilize her failed, they did an emergency Ceaserian-section.

The baby was born without a heartbeat, and doctors tried for 40 minutes to resuscitate him.

"I lost my unborn grandson," he said.

Earlier this month, Keith Brewer was charged with misdemeanor vehicular assault; he's alleged to have failed to yield to a stop sign. New Hampshire State Trooper Adam Labonte said the charge stems from injuries to Rideout, but not the unborn child.

"We looked at it initially. The question was raised, was it a life?" he said. But a review by the Coos County Attorney determined that no charges were possible, Labonte said.

Rideout said he plans to model the legislation after 2012 House Bill 217. The legislation would apply to a fetus in its eighth week of pregnancy or beyond. It exempts any medical procedure, such as abortion, the dispensation of any lawfully prescribed medication, such as the morning-after pill. And it said charges cannot be brought against the mother.

In his veto message, Lynch said the bill should have applied to what he termed viable fetuses, which he said were 24 weeks or older. And he said the legislation could harm the work of fertility clinics.

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