The West

Attorney-General Christian Porter has opened the door to creating criminal sanctions for violence against unborn babies.

Mr Porter said he was surprised that legislative reform had not been considered by the previous government and would like to see the law strengthened.

In all Australian jurisdictions, a child is not considered a human being for criminal purposes until it has been born alive.

Many US States have foetal homicide and assault laws that allow people who unlawfully harm or kill foetuses to be prosecuted. The laws do not affect legal abortions.

"It is understandable that victims of serious assaults, which result in the death of an unborn child, will expect the law to fully recognise the gravity of what has occurred," Mr Porter said.

"The Government is constantly called upon to consider the case for reforms to the criminal law of this State, and if a separate offence for such matters were shown to produce better outcomes, we would take this into account.

"I was surprised when reform in this area did not arise out of the previous Labor government's consideration of the WA Law Reform Commission report into the law of homicide.

"While the case for better outcomes would have to be analysed carefully, my personal view is that this is an area worthy of some attention to reforms designed to strengthen the legal response to acts where an unborn child is affected by acts of violence."

Last November, WA Police investigated laying charges over the stillbirth of an 8½ month foetus after a car crash. The driver was charged with dangerous driving causing bodily harm in relation to the injured woman but it was not possible to prosecute him over the unborn baby's death.

The mother of the injured woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, questioned why she had to officially name the baby and obtain a death certificate if he was not a "human being" under criminal law.

"How can they tell me he's nothing and yet I need all these papers to prove that he was," the injured woman's mother asked.

"How come I had to do that for someone who doesn't exist?"

The same man had been previously investigated by police over the death of a foetus more than a decade ago, after allegations from a former girlfriend that he had punched her stomach and caused a miscarriage.

Mr Porter said death certificates and official burial were required for any stillborn child of at least 20 weeks gestation or of a certain weight at birth.

"The reasons for the different standard for homicides and the issuing of death certificates are complex and of long historical standing and are related to the differing purposes of criminal law and births, deaths and marriage registration," he said.

The West Australian

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