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Manslaughter bill for death of another's fetus dies in Virginia Senate committee

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Taylor Shifflett, six months pregnant, was catching a ride home from work down U.S. 340 outside Elkton in Rockingham County when a drunk driver slammed into the back of the car at 90 miles an hour.

The impact severed the umbilical cord that had kept her unborn son, Caleb, alive. He was otherwise undamaged – “he was perfectly formed” – but she would use a wheelchair for years, and the internal injuries she suffered means she can’t have kids.

“He took everything from me, and the state did absolutely nothing” Shifflett told the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, pleading for legislation that would make people like that driver subject to a charge of manslaughter.

“I begged for a baby, that was my choice; another person made his choice,” to drive while intoxicated, she said.

“How is that fair?”

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-6 on Monday to defeat a bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, under which a person who kills a fetus accidently through acts showing a reckless disregard for human life is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

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The bill also said that any person who kills the fetus of another by an intentional act committed while in the sudden heat of passion upon reasonable provocation would be guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Both would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

If Shifflett had died in that crash, the driver who slammed into her car would have faced a manslaughter charge, Obenshain said.

“But Taylor lived when the baby died,” he said. And so there was that taking of a life.

To deliberately kill a woman’s fetus, except for a lawful abortion, is a crime punishable by up to 40 years in prison, but there is no parallel manslaughter charge, he said.

“This is not an abortion bill, this is not a pro-life bill, it is a pro-choice bill,” because it protects families that have made the choice to have a baby,” Obenshain said.

A similar bill has been filed in the House of Delegates, but the Courts of Justice Committee has not yet acted on it. The Senate committee’s rejection, however, means it is unlikely to make it to the governor’s desk.

Dave Ress's memorable stories from 2022

Covering state and local government is a chance to look carefully at how public services for Virginians work. That can mean everything from how a badly understaffed police department manages to bring down the worst violent crime, to how well we're doing cleaning up Chesapeake Bay, to some of the biggest bills Virginians face, such as electricity and some insurance.  

Dave Ress (804) 649-6948

dress@timesdispatch.com

@DaveRess1 on Twitter

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