A Florida man who became infamous for slipping his girlfriend an abortion-inducing drug was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison on Monday, a move that required a fair amount of legal gymnastics and is spurring renewed efforts in Florida to pass legislation which will make it easier to punish the intentional harming of an unborn fetus.
Twenty-nine year old John Welden was engaged to Remee Jo Lee when she became pregnant with his child in early 2013. Welden, a medical student with plans of his own, begged Lee to obtain an abortion. When she refused, he brought her to his father’s medical practice for a prenatal exam, confirming that the woman was approximately six weeks pregnant.
Shortly thereafter, Welden obtained a package of Cytotec, a drug used for inducing labor as well as forcing a miscarriage, scratched the identifying marks off the pills, and enlisted a pharmacy technician to help him forge a label representing that the drug was Amoxicillin, a common antibiotic. Welden phoned Lee and claimed that the prenatal visit at his father’s clinic had revealed a mild infection that needed antibiotic treatment, and brought her the pills, instructing her to take three of them per day until the dose was gone. A few hours later, Lee’s baby was dead. Cytotec induced, as intended, heavy bleeding and a miscarriage. Lee called Welden from the hospital, where she had gone after the excruciating cramps began, and learned the horrific truth.
Because Lee’s baby was not yet viable, there was question about the applicability of the 2004 Unborn Victim’s of Violence Act, and Welden quickly opted to a plea bargain which spared him the possibility of a life sentence under the Act in exchange for pleading guilty simply to product tampering and mail fraud. The plea bargain recommended a sentence of 13 years and 8 months, a sentence Welden also nearly escaped serving when the trial judge began to express concerns that Lee’s ingestion of only one pill could have actually caused her miscarriage.
This past Monday, justice was finally served however, meted out to the fullest extent possible under Welden’s plea bargain. Expert testimony convinced Judge Lazarra of the causal relationship between the drug and Lee’s miscarriage, resulting in Welden being sentenced to the full 13 years and 8 months recommended. Welden may, of course, at some point become eligible for early parole, but will be required to serve at least 85% of that sentence under Florida law.
Lee is left with the sonogram photos of her unborn child, and a determination to protect other women in her situation. Lee and her parents are publicly urging the Florida legislature to support the Offenses Against Unborn Children bill, which would enable the state to prosecute anyone who kills an unborn child before the point of viability. The legislation has been stalled in the state House for the last three years, but Lee and her parents hope the loss of Lee’s baby, and the difficulty in bringing Welden to justice, will start it moving again. ““Every woman dreams of becoming a mom,” Lee said, expressing her desire to “make sure this never happens again to any other woman.”