CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Delegate Jordan Hill, R-Nicholas, this week introduced a bill to make sure unborn children are explicitly protected under the state’s child abuse and neglect laws – a measure designed to close a legal loophole exposed in a 2016 state Supreme Court decision.
House Bill 2710, introduced Monday, would update the legal definition of child neglect causing death to explicitly include an unborn fetus that has reached at least 24 weeks of gestation as a potential victim.
“West Virginians have a great respect for life and expect their government to protect and provide a voice for the unborn,” Delegate Hill said.
Hill said the bill is a direct response to last year’s state Supreme Court ruling in the Nicholas County case of Stephanie Elaine Louk. Louk was convicted of child neglect causing death after she overdosed on methamphetamine in 2013 while 37 weeks pregnant. Doctors performed an emergency Caesarean section operation, but Louk’s child was born “essentially brain dead” and died 11 days later.
Last May, the Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that Louk could not be held responsible for the death of her child because the state’s child neglect causing death statute does not refer to an “unborn child” or “fetus” and therefore “does not encompass prenatal acts that result in harm to a subsequently born child.”
“The Supreme Court last year identified this gap in our law and we, as a Legislature, need to act this year to fix this,” Delegate Hill said. “We need to protect life, and if someone intentionally harms their own baby while it’s still inside the womb, they need to be prosecuted. I hope this Legislature will act quickly to close this loophole to make sure unborn children across our state are protected.”
Hill’s bill is co-sponsored by Delegates Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette; Nancy Reagan Foster, R-Putnam; Patrick Martin, R-Lewis; Mark Dean, R-Mingo; Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley; Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell; Lynne Arvon, R-Raleigh; Saira Blair, R-Berkeley; and Carol Miller, R-Cabell. It is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.