Unborn Victims of Violence Act Used in Tampa

May 19, 2013

History may have been made last week when federal prosecutors used the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA) to indict a man who is alleged to have killed his own unborn child.  It is quite likely that this is the first use of the UVVA.

The news of this terrible crime spread across the nation after the federal government announced an indictment of John Andrew Welden in Tampa, Florida.  Welden tricked his pregnant girlfriend, Remee Lee, into taking a drug, misoprostol (Cytotec®), which produces abortions in early pregnancy.  Lee was six weeks pregnant and refused to have an abortion as Welden had demanded.

Welden’s father is an obstetrician-gynecologist who performed the ultrasound and blood tests that confirmed Lee’s pregnancy.  (Welden’s father, apparently, was not involved in the crime.)

After confirmation of the pregnancy, John Andrew Welden told Lee that her blood tests revealed that she had an infection.  He gave her a bottle of pills in an orange plastic bottle of the type one receives from a pharmacy.  Welden falsified a label somehow to indicate that the bottle contained amoxicillin and that a prescription from Welden’s father called for her to take the medicine three times daily. 

In fact, the bottle contained misoprostol, the second drug in the RU-486 abortion regimen.  Misoprostol is used primarily to prevent patients who take large quantities of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) from developing ulcers.  Very late in pregnancies it has legitimate obstetrical uses that, roughly speaking, have to do with inducing the delivery of a healthy full-term baby.  However, early, in pregnancies a pregnant woman who takes misoprostol will begin to have uterine contractions that can kill the baby by causing the uterus to expel its contents.

That is what happened in this case.  Lee says she woke up on Easter Sunday in a pool of blood.  The staff at a nearby hospital told her that her baby had died.  It was quickly apparent to these medical professionals that the drug she had been given was not the antibiotic.  Interestingly, Welden had gone so far as to eliminate drug-identifying features from the tablets.  It was quickly determined that she had, in fact, been given misoprostol.

I am not sure how the case developed – optimally this matter would be handled by state authorities who would prosecute the matter.  Unfortunately, Florida law is archaic when it comes to the protection of the unborn.  According to Americans United for Life (see Defending Life 2012), “[u]nder Florida criminal law, the killing of an unborn child after ‘quickening’ (discernible movement in the womb) is defined as manslaughter.”  Prior to quickening, killing an unborn baby is not a crime in Florida.

Remee Lee’s baby was only six week’s old gestationally.  Typically, quickening occurs from weeks 13 to 16.  A manslaughter prosecution would not have been possible in this case.  It may be this fact that brought about the federal government’s involvement. 

 On May 14th a federal grand jury indictment was unsealed against Welden that contained two counts.  Count One charges Welden with tampering with consumer products (18 U.S.C. § 1365(a)) – in this case, the drugs taken by Remee Lee which relied upon a falsified prescriptive drug label and tablets that were defaced.  Count Two, relying upon the drug tampering, then proceeds to charge Welden with violations of the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act (18 U.S.C. § 1841) and the federal murder provision (18 U.S.C. § 1111(a)). 

 The UVVA is a federal act.  Federal jurisdiction in a Florida murder depends on the violation of an underlying federal law.  Typically, this will involve interstate commerce, and, in this case, it is tampering with a consumer product.  That provision is referenced in the UVVA.

 Praise needs to be given to the federal officials involved:  Robert E. O’Neill (U.S. Attorney - Middle District of Florida), W. Stephen Muldrow (Assistant, U.S. Attorney), and A. Lee Bentley, III (First Assistant U.S. Attorney, Chief, Criminal Division – Tampa).

No cheers for the state of Florida which needs to amend its abortion statute.

See the story from the Tampa Bay Times by Patty Ryan and Will Hobson.  Go to this link for a PDF copy of the unsealed indictment.