TALLAHASSEE – Remee Jo Lee cries every day when she thinks about the baby she lost after her ex-boyfriend tricked her into taking abortion drugs.
It hits her when she sees pregnant women, or a diaper changing station in a women's bathroom. She feels the pain when she walks through the children's section of a department store.
And now she's pleading with lawmakers to pass a bill that would have allowed the state to prosecute John Andrew Welden for the death of her unborn child.
“This has just been the most devastating experience for me. This never goes away. I deal with this every day,” Lee told the Senate Judiciary Committee today, rapidly twisting a facial tissue in her hands as she spoke through tears. The framed sonogram images of her unborn child sat on the lectern in front of her. “This has just been very, very hard and I never want anyone else to go through this ever again and I want the state of Florida to show that this is not acceptable. That you can't get away with this.”
The committee voted 6-2 to pass the bill (SB 162) with no debate. Last year the same bill died because the committee refused to take it up for consideration. Lee hopes that her story will be the difference this year.
“We've inspired some change in the hearts and minds of others, which is an uplifting experience. I'm glad that they're able to see that this is a reality that can happen,” she said after the meeting.
Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, is sponsoring the House version of the bill (HB 59). Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is sponsoring the Senate measure. Both bills have one more committee stop before being considered by the full chambers.
Lee found out she was pregnant last year and said Welden told her immediately he didn't want her to have the baby.
The son of a doctor, Welden forged his father's signature in March of 2013 on a prescription for Cytotec and relabeled a pill bottle as the antibiotic “amoxicillin.” Cytotec is used to induce labor. Welden told Lee that his father said she had an infection and told her to take the mislabeled medication.
She experienced severe cramping and went to the hospital, where on Easter she was told that she lost the baby six weeks and five days into her pregnancy.
While Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies investigated the case, no state charges were filed. Instead, federal prosecutors initially charged Welden under the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.” That charge was dropped as part of a deal in which Welden pleaded guilty to drug-tampering charges. He was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison.
Florida does have a law that allows charges to be filed if a fetus is harmed or killed once it's at the point where it would be able to survive outside the womb. The bills would apply the law to any pregnancy. Those convicted could be sentenced to life in prison if they intentionally sought to kill the unborn child. Opponents have argued that the definition is too broad and could apply in cases where a woman doesn't even know that she is pregnant.
In Lee's case, she not only knew she was pregnant, she was excited about becoming a mother, and she's angry that Welden wasn't charged under state law just because she wasn't pregnant long enough. She even picked out a name for the baby.
“He was my little muffin in the oven, my Memphis Remington, the first grandchild my parents were going to have,” Lee said through tears while sitting on Ahern's couch. “I just wish he was in my arms. I wish I was juggling around a diaper bag and pushing a stroller rather than carrying around a frame, which is all I have.”