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Fetal death to be prosecuted as murder in Texas

A fetus’ death must be prosecuted as murder, regardless of the fetus' stage of development, the highest criminal court of Texas has ruled.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also acknowledged that state laws protecting fetuses do not apply to abortions, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Wednesday's ruling rejected an appeal by Terence Lawrence, who said his due-process rights were violated because he was prosecuted for two murders for the killing of a woman and her 4- to 6-week-old fetus.

The court ruled unanimously that state laws declaring a fetus an individual with protections do not conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling that protects abortion rights.

"The Supreme Court has emphasized that states may protect human life not only once the fetus has reached viability but 'from the outset of the pregnancy,"' the court said. "The Legislature is free to protect the lives of those whom it considers to be human beings."

Lawrence was convicted of capital murder and given a life sentence for the 2004 shooting death of his girlfriend, Antwonyia Smith, and the couple's unborn child. Lawrence shot Smith after learning she was pregnant with his child, according to court documents.

Lawrence argued in his appeal that he should not have been prosecuted for the murder of the fetus because it was not viable. Supreme Court precedent in abortion cases has established that states have no compelling interest to interfere before a fetus would be old enough to live outside the mother's womb, he said.

In the opinion disagreeing with Lawrence's argument, Presiding Judge Sharon Keller said abortion precedent is based on the premise that a woman wants to have the procedure.

"The 'compelling state interest' test, along with the accompanying 'viability' threshold, has no application to a statute that prohibits a third party from causing the death of the woman's unborn child against her will," Keller said.

Judge Cheryl Johnson noted that Lawrence intentionally killed the fetus. She said it is possible that the fetal murder law may not be constitutional in all cases.

"It is easy to foresee that there will be cases involving the stranger-on-stranger murder of a woman who is in the early stages of pregnancy and who would not appear to be pregnant," Johnson said in a concurring opinion. "In such a case, the statute may be unconstitutional as applied because the defendant ... (could not) have intended the death of the fetus."