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State issues alert preventing women from being charged with murder after miscarriage or stillbirth

The legal alert comes after a case where murder charges against a Kings County woman, who delivered a stillborn child, were dropped.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — New guidance from California Attorney General Rob Bonta's office instructs law enforcement and district attorney agencies in the state to not charge women with murder for miscarriages or stillbirths. 

The legal alert, issued by Bonta Thursday at a press conference, comes after a 2021 case in Kings County where a woman was charged with murder due to delivering a stillborn child after consuming methamphetamine. 

Xavier Becerra, who was the state's Attorney General at the time, wrote an amicus brief to the court in that case expressing support for the woman. The judge eventually dismissed the murder charges. 

"Californians who suffer miscarriages or stillbirths can not be charge under penal code 187 for their own actions," Bonta said at Thursday's press conference. "In California, we do not criminalize pregnancy loss, we do not criminalize miscarriages, we do not criminalize stillbirths."

Bonta described the legal alert as being a "persuasive authority in a court of law." He did not rule out issuing a legal opinion on the issue in the future. 

"We want to provide that clarity now in case there are developments in other counties right now as we speak," Bonta said. "The intent and purpose of legal alerts are to provide more rapid input from the office of the chief law officer of the state on issues of critical relevance and time sensitivity."

In 1970, the word "fetus" was added to California's Penal Code 187 which defines murder as, "the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”

Bonta says the alert reinforces the State Legislature's amendment to the Penal Code which did not intend for the definition of murder to include a pregnant woman's own actions that could lead to a stillbirth or miscarriage.

"We won't stand idly by as some try to undermine reproductive health care and try to erode our freedoms" Bonta said.

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