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The bill is meant to ensure that people are not investigated, prosecuted or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy, experiencing pregnancy loss or for losing a baby after it is born due to a pregnancy-related cause, according to Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, the lawmaker who introduced it.
Women in California have been prosecuted for delivering stillborns after using controlled substances.
Wicks said she amended the language to specify that it would only prevent people from being prosecuted if a post-birth death occurred because of a pregnancy-related cause.
The alarming news about a new California law came in the form of a headline shared on Facebook.
"California introduces new bill that would allow mothers to kill their babies up to 7 days after birth," read the screenshot headline above an image of a sleeping newborn, swaddled and cozy in a pink and blue knit hat.
"Democrats at it again," read the caption that accompanied the March 31 Facebook post. The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
While the post would be shocking, it is wrong. California lawmakers are not seeking to legalize killing newborns.
The claim was taken from a screenshot of a March 24 blog post that claimed that California lawmakers are working on an "infanticide bill."
"Under California AB 2223, a mother will be shielded from civil and criminal charges for any ‘actions or omissions’ related to her pregnancy," the post read. "These actions include not only abortion in any stage of pregnancy, but also ‘perinatal death.’ Perinatal death is defined as the death of a newborn up to seven days or more."
Assembly Bill 2223 is a real bill — but it would not legalize killing newborns in California.
The bill intends to ensure that parents are not "investigated, persecuted, or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing pregnancy loss," said Erin Ivie, a spokesperson for Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, the California legislator who introduced the bill.
Broadly, the bill would end a requirement that a coroner must investigate deaths related to, or following, self-induced or criminal abortions. It would also prevent using a coroner’s statement on a certificate of fetal death to pursue a criminal or civil case.
In addition, the bill would add the following language to the Health and Safety Code:
"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."
Ivie pointed to the cases of two California women, Chelsea Becker and Adora Perez. Both were prosecuted and incarcerated after delivering stillborn babies, because officials ruled that methamphetamine found in the fetuses’ systems caused their deaths. A judge later dismissed Becker’s murder charge. And though Perez struck a plea agreement, a judge overthrew it and the resulting 11-year prison sentence, saying it was unlawful.
In addition to avoiding such cases, Ivie said the bill is intended to protect parents who lose a baby after delivery as a result of a pregnancy-related issue.
She provided a real-world example: A Long Island woman was pregnant when she was in a car wreck. She suffered severe injuries and her baby was delivered by emergency pre-term cesarean section. After living for a few days, the baby passed away. Prosecutors argued that they could charge the woman for her child’s death because it occurred after delivery, rather than in utero — and because she hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. They also said she had used drugs and alcohol that contributed to the crash. The woman was convicted of manslaughter, but that conviction was overturned in 2015.
These false claims appear to arise out of the ambiguity of the term "perinatal." Depending on the source consulted, the adjective "perinatal" has different meanings:
Merriam-Webster: "Occurring in, concerned with, or being in the period around the time of birth."
Dictionary.com: "Occurring during or pertaining to the phase surrounding the time of birth, from the 20th week of gestation to the 28th day of newborn life."
The National Institute of Mental Health: "The time before and after the birth of a child."
The U.K. National Health Service: "The period of time when you become pregnant and up to a year after giving birth."
For the purposes of Wicks’ bill, Ivie said, "the perinatal stage is the period following pregnancy, and it is currently undefined when it comes to duration."
Ivie told PolitiFact, however, that Wicks amended the language of the bill to specify that it would only prevent people from being prosecuted if a perinatal death occurred "due to a pregnancy-related cause."
Khiara M. Bridges, a law professor at UC Berkeley School of Law, said that perinatal is not a "legal term of art," so it does not have a set meaning across several different laws. It would be helpful for lawmakers to define "perinatal" as it is used in the bill, Bridges said.
She said that Wicks’ proposed amendment should clarify that the bill is not meant to protect people who intentionally kill their newborn babies.
"If the text is amended to say a ‘perinatal death due to a pregnancy-related cause,’ it means that the fetus died because of some complication due to the pregnancy, as opposed to an action that the pregnant person or anyone else took to cause the fetal death," Bridges said.
If there were any ambiguity in the law, a judge would likely be tapped to help interpret the meaning of the statute, Bridges said.
"A judge would be hard-pressed to interpret that language as protecting a person who kills their baby up to seven days after birth intentionally," she said. "One of the tools judges would use in that case is legislative intent."
Wicks said that claims that her bill would legalize murdering newborns were "absurd and disingenuous." "No person should face prison time for a tragic pregnancy outcome, and this bill will ensure that prosecutions and investigations have no place in reproductive health care," Wicks said.
A post claimed a proposed California bill "would allow mothers to kill their babies up to 7 days after birth."
It does not. The bill is meant to ensure that people are not investigated, prosecuted or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy, experiencing pregnancy loss or for losing a baby after it is born due to pregnancy-related causes, according to the lawmaker who introduced it.
A judge would use that legislative intent to help interpret any ambiguity in the law if it were passed.
We rate this claim False.
Facebook post, March 31, 2022
Blog post, March 24, 2022
California Legislative Information, "AB-2223 Reproductive health. (2021-2022)," accessed April 1, 2022
Interview with Khiara M. Bridges, a professor of law at UC Berkeley School of Law, April 4, 2022
Email interview with Erin Ivie, communications director for Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, April 1, 2022
Los Angeles Times, "California judge overturns 11-year prison term for woman whose baby was stillborn," March 18, 2022
NARAL Pro-Choice California, "California Future of Abortion Council Announces Support for Package of Legislation," March 23, 2022
New York Times, "Judge Dismisses Murder Charge Against California Mother After Stillbirth," May 20, 2021
New York Times, "California’s Attorney General Condemns Murder Charges Over a Stillbirth," Aug. 11, 2020
Webster’s New World College Dictionary, "Perinatal," accessed April 4, 2022
Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "Perinatal," accessed April 4, 2022
Dictionary.com, "Perinatal," accessed April 4, 2022
National Health Service Surrey and Borders Partnership, "What does perinatal mean?" accessed April 4, 2022
National Institute of Mental Health, "Perinatal Depression," accessed April 4, 2022
WUSA9, "No, Maryland bill would not allow newborns to be killed," March 29, 2022
Courthouse News Service, "Mom’s Conviction Tossed for Baby’s Death in Crash," Oct. 23, 2015
CBS News, "Court Overturns LI Woman's Conviction In 2008 Death Of Baby," Oct. 22, 2015
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