This is the first in a series about key issues facing this year’s General Assembly.
Last year, The Family Foundation successfully advocated for the passage of one of our top priority bills: the “Baby Bill.” While the “Baby Bill” closed a loophole in Virginia law that previously allowed the killing of a child just moments after birth, this year we hope to build on that success by taking the protection of life one step further with the passage of legislation that would create a wrongful death statute for the unborn.
The Wrongful Death bill (HB 1440, the Senate bill has yet to be numbered) patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas) and Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-27, Winchester) would provide protection for the unborn in cases where they lose their life due to negligence of another.
While Virginia’s Code does include a fetal homicide law, the same unborn life, taken without intention, or premeditation, elicits no penalty. Improving our law to provide for a civil penalty in the cases of fetal manslaughter is essential.
Virginia’s current wrongful death law operates in accordance with the “born alive rule.” The born alive rule dates back to a 1940s federal court decision declaring that a child could recover damages for injury caused in utero once they were born. By extension, if a baby is born alive (though sometimes barely and only through artificial means) and then dies, a parent can then pursue a wrongful death cause of action for the injury in utero.
Approximately 40 states have gone beyond the born alive rule and now allow for pre-birth wrongful death suits for injury caused to a fetus while in utero. The Wrongful Death bill would bring Virginia in line with current law in the vast majority of states. It defines life as beginning at conception and therefore has the practical effect of expanding the state’s wrongful death statue to encompass all unborn children. After all, an unborn life is not only of value when it is wanted by the mother or when its life is intentionally taken by another.