AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas laws allow the killing of a fetus to be prosecuted as murder, regardless of the fetus' stage of development, but they do not apply to abortions, the state's highest criminal court has ruled.
Wednesday's ruling by the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected an appeal by Terence Lawrence, who said his right to due process was violated because he was prosecuted for two murders for killing a woman and her 4- to 6-week-old fetus.
The court ruled unanimously that state laws declaring a fetus an individual with protections do not conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling that protects a woman's right to an abortion.
"The Supreme Court has emphasized that states may protect human life not only once the fetus has reached viability but 'from the outset of the pregnancy,'" the court said. "The Legislature is free to protect the lives of those whom it considers to be human beings."
Lawrence was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life for the 2004 shooting death of his girlfriend, Antwonyia Smith, and the couple's unborn child. Lawrence shot Smith after learning she was pregnant with his child, according to court documents.
Lawrence's appeal argued that he should not have been prosecuted for the death of the fetus because it was not viable. Supreme Court precedent in abortion cases has established that states have no compelling interest to interfere before a fetus would be old enough to live outside the mother's womb, he said.
However, the court said abortion precedent is based on the premise that a woman wants to have the procedure.
"The 'compelling state interest' test, along with the accompanying 'viability' threshold, has no application to a statute that prohibits a third party from causing the death of the woman's unborn child against her will," Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote.