Legislation that would have required mothers who had failed to report fetal deaths to the police within 12 hours of the delivery to face a possible misdemeanor sentence will be withdrawn, its patron said on Monday.
"I've elected to withdraw HB 1677 from consideration by the General Assembly this year. The language is just too confusing," Del. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, said January 10.
Cosgrove's surprise move came after a firestorm of controversy spread across the World Wide Web over the weekend about the possible far-reaching effects of the measure.
"It was clearly absurd on its face. To expect a woman who has gone through the mental and physical pain of a miscarriage to have to contact the police department after it has happened is just ridiculous," said Ann O'Hanlon, the executive director of the Virginia chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a women's reproductive-rights lobbying group.
"It was just another one of the extremists' efforts to try to sneak antichoice legislation through. The motive here seems pretty clear. It was to restrict women from having control of their reproductive lives," O'Hanlon said.
Cosgrove, for his part, said opponents of House Bill 1677 were engaging in an active campaign of "misinformation" to get their political points across.
"HB 1677 was intended to deal with situations involving mothers who had taken their pregnancies to full term and decided that they didn't want them who gave birth to their children and then tried to say that they were stillborn," Cosgrove said. "We've had a number of cases in the Chesapeake area that followed that description, and it was part of the legislative agenda of the Chesapeake Police Department to come up with legislation to try to give police more ammunition to be able to deal with these kinds of cases when they came up."
But the wording of the bill seemed to open up to interpretation that any woman involved in a fetal death– not just those who had carried their pregnancies to full term– could face jail time for failing to comply with the proposed code section.
The legislation provided that "when a fetal death occurs without medical attendance, it shall be the woman's responsibility to report the death to the proper law-enforcement agency within 12 hours of the delivery."
"It's interesting that he has made it a point to characterize the information that was being disseminated about what he had introduced as misinformation," said O'Hanlon. "His message has consistently been that the bill wasn't about women who have had miscarriages, which it clearly was."
Cosgrove, who said he plans to move to strike the bill from consideration when it comes before the House Committee for Courts of Justice later this month, begs to differ there.
"The bill was never intended to deal with cases where mothers have had miscarriages. That has been what people are saying it was focused on, but that's not the case," Cosgrove said.
FILE PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER