Tampa, FL -- One of the many bills signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott this past Friday included the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act."
The new rule essentially makes it a crime to injure or kill an unborn child at any stage of the mother's pregnancy.
The law has been nicknamed the "Remee Lee" law, after the Tampa woman who lost her pregnancy last year. Her former boyfriend, John Andrew Welden, secretly slipped Lee an abortion pill. He was sentenced to 13 years and 8 months on product tampering charges after he changed the name on a medications's label to disguise it. He reached a plea deal to avoid a federal charge of killing an unborn child.
At the time, the state of Florida had no such law.
"Had he not tampered with the drug, he'd probably be walking right now," said attorney Gil Sanchez.
Sanchez, who represents Remee Lee in her civil suit against Welden, says his client is glad Florida now has a law that mirrors the federal statute.
Lee had traveled to the state capital several times this past year, he said, urging lawmakers to act.
"Going to Tallahassee and all the committee meetings both in the House and Senate. And so she was able to take this to finally get passed," he said.
But pro-choice advocates worry the new law treats the end of any pregnancy, no matter how far along, even at conception, the same.
Until now, Florida laws applied only to a viable fetus around the 18th to 22nd week of development.
This law, they say, is an attempt to redefine "personhood" and is a step toward eliminating abortion rights.
"So then they'll use this law to layer on another law and another law to clearly establish personhood," said Toni Van Pelt, a Tampa Bay area women's rights advocate.
Sanchez says the law makes clear exceptions for a mother's right to choose, and for licensed medical providers who perform abortions.
A new state law protecting the unborn stirs a broader discussion of abortion rights.
But he admits there may be cases where perhaps the victim herself didn't even know she's pregnant until being diagnosed after an act of violence. And whether the accused had any knowledge of the pregnancy or intent to harm the unborn won't make a difference.
"Yes, that law would be applied to them. Even them not having knowledge that the mother was carrying," Sanchez said.
Sanchez says those issues were debated by the Legislature, and believes there are safeguards in place to avoid legal challenges.
The new law takes effect Oct. 1, 2014.
There are now a total of 29 states with full-coverage unborn victim laws according to the National right to Life Committee.
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