Execute the Doctors

From Holden:

Unintended consequences? Perhaps. You see, first the Texas Legislature made the killing of human fetuses a capital offense, but maintained that a doctor performing a legal medical procedure in which a fetus was “killed” (ie: abortion) could use that legal procedure as a defense against prosecution. Then they outlawed third-trimester abortions and abortions for minors without parental consent.

So, if a doctor performs a third-trimester abortion or an abortion for a teenager without the parents’ consent, is he a murder? A group of Texas prosecutors say yes.

Could Texas doctors face murder charges for performing late-term abortions or abortions on minors whose parents have not consented?

House State Affairs Committee Chairman David Swinford, R-Dumas, doesn’t think so, but he’s concerned that’s how a statewide prosecutors group is interpreting legislation passed last year. Swinford has asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to weigh in with a formal opinion.

The question of whether murder charges should be on the table has even surprised some anti-abortion activists who pushed for the legislation in question.

“We certainly think that aborting a viable third-trimester baby is the killing of a child, but this is the first I have heard of anyone interpreting it to be a capital offense,” said Kyleen Wright, president of the Texans For Life Coalition.

A law passed in 2003 said killing an “unborn child” at any stage is capital murder; but it also said performing a lawful medical procedure could be a defense against that charge.

Then, a law passed last year tightened the ban on doctors performing third-trimester abortions (with a few exceptions) and banned them from performing abortions on minors without parental consent or a court order.

Because such abortions are no longer lawful, doctors who perform them could be subject to murder charges, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association says in a written guide to laws passed in 2005.

“This was undoubtedly an unintended consequence but one that law enforcement authorities should be aware of,” says the guide, written by Shannon Edmonds, the group’s director of governmental relations.

Swinford argues that state law is written so that the abortion procedures are actually defined as a Class A misdemeanor and/or a third-degree felony, not capital murder, which is a first-degree felony. “There is no evidence — and Mr. Edmonds identifies none — that the Legislature intended to bring such conduct within the scope of the criminal homicide statutes,” Swinford writes.