Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks received intense questioning from Republicans on the Senate Health Committee last week over AB 2223, a controversial bill, that provides immunity to a mother and anyone who assists her for causing the death of her unborn or born infant in certain circumstances. Although the bill already received approval from four legislative committees and the entire State Assembly, last week’s hearing was the first time Wicks received any scrutiny from Republicans about the bill’s implications. Wicks was not prepared.
As Senator Melissa Melendez and Senator Shannon Grove asked about the specific meaning and implications of the bill text, Wicks struggled to answer or didn’t answer at all. She constantly asked the attorneys and doctors from the bill’s sponsors, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, for help. But their long rambling answers didn’t clearly answer the questions either.
After the hearing Senator Melendez tweeted, “AB 2223 is the worst bill I’ve seen. Ever.” This was Melendez’s last Senate Health Committee hearing with term limits ending her 10-year legislative career. She went out with a bang.
Wicks started the hearing by explaining that AB 2223 would insure women were not criminalized for their “miscarriages, stillbirths, or self-managing an abortion.” The two cases she brought up involved women “who were imprisoned for their stillbirth,” as Wick characterizes it. But she fails to mention these women were charged for the deaths of their stillborn babies because their children were injured from the methamphetamine they took while pregnant. According to CalMatters, only one California prosecutor in 30 years has prosecuted a woman with murder over her miscarriage.
Melendez acknowledged she understood what the bill was intended to do, but complained the bill went “far beyond the stated intent.” One of the most important questions Melendez asked is whether the bill would allow a mother or anyone assisting her to let a newborn baby die of neglect if the child survives a botched abortion.
Melendez told Wicks she was concerned her bill would legalize what former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam pushed to be legal in 2019 when he told a radio show that doctors should be able to decide to allow children to die of neglect after birth “if that’s what the mother and the family desired.”
This question arises from the following AB 2223 bill language which states:
What is "Perinatal Death?"
The term “perinatal death” is not defined in the bill and Wicks would not define it even after Senator Grove asked repeatedly for a definition. But all known definitions of perinatal death include the death of a child at least seven days after birth, with some definitions stretching to 30 to 90 days.
When Wicks first introduced the bill there were no qualifying words added to the term perinatal death. Pro-life critics rightly said this bill openly decriminalized infanticide. As the bill went through the hearing process, Wicks changed the language first to read, “perinatal death due to a pregnancy-related cause,” then to “perinatal death due to causes that occurred in utero.”
She did this while at the same time telling newspapers like the Sacramento Bee that, “Anti-abortion activists are peddling an absurd and disingenuous argument that this bill is about killing newborns.” The last amendment convinced the California Catholic Conference, representing the California Bishops, to remove their opposition to the bill and go neutral, something Grove criticized in the committee hearing and something Melendez critiqued online.
The final version of the bill says no one can be criminally or civilly held accountable for the “perinatal death [of a newborn] due to causes that occurred in utero,” meaning the death of a breathing newborn that can be attributed to something that happened while the woman was pregnant. Now Melendez’s question about babies that survive an abortion becomes important, as many women now manage their own abortions with mifepristone and misoprostol, abortion medication women can order online. If a baby is hurt, but survives a chemical abortion, will this bill let the mother and her assistant let the baby die, because they can point to a cause that happened in utero?
Wicks's Attempt at an Answer
Speaking in general terms Wicks said her bill will not prevent investigating the murder of a newborn. “As a living person, they [newborns] have those rights and if something happens after birth, malpractice or murder, they can be investigated,” she said. But when asked specifically about the instance when a child survives a botched abortion, she referred that question to the attorneys who did not clearly answer the question.
In the end, AB 2223 was approved by the Senate Health Committee by a vote of 7 to 2, with Democrat Senators Eggman, Leyva, Limón, Pan, Roth, Rubio, and Wiener voting yes, and Republican Senators Melendez and Grove voting no. Two Democrat senators, Gonzalez and Hurtado, didn’t vote.
The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee with a hearing that will happen in August, after the summer recess.
Watch the entire hearing yourself below: