Lawyers representing a man accused of tricking his girlfriend into taking an abortion drug plan to challenge his federal prosecution on constitutional grounds.
John Andrew Welden, 28, faces a mandatory life sentence in federal prison without parole if convicted of murder under the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” which Congress passed in 2004. It also is known as “Laci and Conner’s Law,” after Laci Peterson, a California woman who was murdered while pregnant.
Authorities said that when a woman he was dating, Remmee Jo Lee, became pregnant, Welden took her to his father, an obstetrics-gynecology doctor. Welden later told her that she had an infection, authorities said. He is accused of forging a prescription for the drug Cytotec, which the prosecution says is an abortion pill, and then changing the label to make it look like a common antibiotic.
After Lee took the drug, she lost the baby.
Defense lawyer Todd Foster on Thursday told U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara he expects to file motions to dismiss the case, partly because there are “some tensions” between the law involved and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1974 decision that overturned laws against abortion.
Lazzara appeared flabbergasted.
“Roe vs. Wade gives the father the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy without her consent?” the judge asked.
“No,” Foster responded.
“Good,” the judge said. “That argument will not fly.”
The Supreme Court ruling said the government’s interest in regulating abortion did not override the woman’s right to privacy until the end of the first trimester of pregnancy.
Lee was in her first trimester at the time authorities say she took Cytotec.
Welden could not be prosecuted under Florida law, which currently requires a fetus to be viable outside the womb before charges can be brought against a person accused of harming it.
Foster also told the judge he may challenge the government’s ability to use statements Welden made to Hillsborough County sheriff’s detectives.
In a bail motion, Foster said there is no indication Welden was read his Miranda rights before making his statements.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow told Lazzara the statements were made before Welden was under arrest. Miranda warnings are required only for interrogations made while suspects are in police custody.
Foster wrote in his bail motion that “the government’s application of the facts of this case to the statutory provisions identified is both unique and unprecedented. This appears to be a case of first impression, presenting novel legal issues. Indeed, defense counsel have located only two other cases in the United States where defendants were charged under the (Unborn Victims of Violence Act),” and both of them were different than this case.
Foster also suggested in the bail motion that it is possible Lee had a miscarriage that had nothing to do with any drugs she may have been given.
As evidence, Foster writes that Lee was having cramping and bleeding during her ultrasound before Welden is accused of giving her the Cytotec.
In support of the bail motion, Foster included affidavits from 16 friends and family members attesting to Welden’s character, describing him as religious, kind and devoted to his family.
According to the affidavits, Welden was studying medicine at the University of South Florida.
Among the affidavits is one from Tara Fillinger, who says that she has known Welden for seven years and was his girlfriend for most of that time.
“Prior to Andrew’s incarceration, we were discussing marriage and looking for a home to live in,” Fillinger said in the affidavit. “Andrew and I wanted to build a life together.”
During a court hearing in March, Lee told a circuit court judge that Welden was her best friend and that she loved him in spite of what she said he had done to her.
“I still don’t want anything bad to happen to him,” Lee said.
“This isn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be going to doctor’s appointments. I wanted to have a baby shower. I wanted to see what the baby looked like. I wanted to see all of it. I wanted to see both of us and the baby,” Lee said.