TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, a new state law prompted by a Tampa case in which a man tricked his pregnant girlfriend into taking a pill that eventually caused a miscarriage.
The new legislation updates a law in which a person could be prosecuted for causing harm to a pregnant woman that results in the death of an unborn child if the child would have been viable outside the womb. The new state law now covers unborn children at any stage of development.
“(I'm) relieved that there is no timetable for justice for unborn children,” said bill sponsor Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole.
Although a similar bill was presented in previous years, including by Ahern, it didn't gain enough support in the Legislature for passage. That changed after the 2013 case involving Remee Jo Lee and John Andrew Welden.
Lee “deserves a lot of credit to be able to get the bill across the finish line,” Ahern said.
Lee wasn't available for comment on Friday. She, however, is expected to attend with Gov. Rick Scott an upcoming ceremonial signing of the bill. The event will either be held in Tampa or Tallahassee, where Lee is expected to make a statement, said Monica Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the Sanchez Valencia law firm in Tampa that represented Lee.
Welden was sentenced in January to 13 years and eight months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to tampering with a consumer product and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Under the plea agreement, prosecutors agreed not to pursue a murder charge.
Welden admitted that he lied to Lee and told her to take a prescription antibiotic for an infection. He didn't tell her he had forged his physician father's signature on a prescription for a drug that can cause a miscarriage and switched the label.
Shortly after Lee took the prescription of Cytotec, she began cramping and bleeding. She later went to the emergency room, where she learned she lost her unborn child, which was 6 weeks old.
Lee later went to the state Legislature and spoke in support of the new legislation.
Ahern said Lee became a strong advocate who helped change the minds of state legislators.
“She's the one with the life sentence,” Ahern said. “She has to deal with the loss of her unborn child.”