TAMPA — Five years ago, an Air Force airman grudgingly married his pregnant girlfriend but began lacing her food with ground up abortion pills. She miscarried in her second trimester, after consuming a deviled egg.
Caylinn Young, 25, of Oklahoma felt isolated in her experience until she read recently about a Lutz woman named Remee Lee, 26, who miscarried in March, reportedly under similar circumstances.
The two haven't been in contact. But their lost pregnancies link them in a debate about when it's appropriate for government to protect an unborn child.
They appear to be the only two surviving women in the nation whose circumstances have led federal prosecutors to charge someone under the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
The law punishes the killing of an unborn human in any stage of gestation during the commission of a separate federal crime.
America's prenatal policy is usually defined by Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that banned states from barring early-stage abortions.
The coexistence of those two positions confuses some people and enrages others. Abortion rights advocates fear that one could undermine the other by establishing the "personhood" of a life not yet viable.
For this reason, Lee and her family won't be the only ones paying attention as the government's first-degree murder case unfolds against her ex-boyfriend, John Andrew Welden, 28. The fertility doctor's son is accused of giving Lee abortion pills disguised as antibiotics.
Young knows what's ahead.
"I feel so bad for her," she said of Lee. "I just know people are going to attack her."
Strangers will want Lee to explain why abortion is a crime for men but not for women. They'll ask about a past pregnancy. They'll want her to be a mouthpiece for a cause.
"In my opinion, this is not an abortion issue," said Young, now a happily remarried mother of four. "She was poisoned. Her life was put in jeopardy. My life was put in jeopardy.
"This man took something from me. He killed a life growing inside me that had a heartbeat.
"This is not abortion. This is murder."
• • •
For a decade, some of the same players who clashed over abortion rights have disagreed whether women such as Young and Lee should find refuge in a law.
In 2003, NOW called the proposed Unborn Victims of Violence Act "a poorly disguised attempt to elevate fetal rights."
Little has changed.
Laws that treat a woman's fertilized egg, embryo or fetus as a separate person are part of a long-term strategy to overturn Roe vs. Wade, reproductive rights advocate Lynn M. Paltrow wrote Monday in The Nation.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, sees no conflict between Roe vs. Wade and the fetal homicide law.
"It's apples and oranges," he said. "The whole way the Supreme Court fashioned abortion rights has to do with a woman's autonomy and nothing to do with these cases where she doesn't consent."
Johnson directed a five-year campaign to pass the federal law.
He and a researcher believe that it has been used three times: against Frederick Beach for the 2008 beating death of a pregnant woman on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico; against Young's ex-husband, Scott D. Boie, by 2009 military court martial; and now, against Welden.
Fetal homicide laws exist, in some form, in about 38 states. Not all of them recognize deaths of early-stage fetuses, though, and so lobbying efforts continue even in states that have a law.
Paltrow sees the laws as a greater threat to women than a deterrent to violence, she wrote.
A former ACLU attorney, she founded National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an organization that challenges punitive reproductive health policies.
She offered the example of Bei Bei Shuai, who took rat poison in a suicide attempt when seven months pregnant. Shuai faces a fetal homicide charge under Indiana's state law.
Johnson called the Indiana law "flawed" and said most states explicitly exempt the actions of the pregnant woman.
"The pro-abortion lobby doesn't like the way these laws make people think," he said. "They don't want them to get into the habit of thinking of an unborn child as a separate member of the human family.
"So, often, you have these laws being blocked in state legislatures year after year until a high-profile case comes along."
• • •
State Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg, hopes that people were paying attention to media reports of Lee's lost pregnancy.
He took notice when her attorney called for a "Remee Lee Law."
He tried this year, and last, to broaden Florida's fetal homicide law to include all stages of gestation. Current law makes it illegal to kill an "unborn quick child," a 19th century term that speaks to a fetus' viability.
Ahern wants to get rid of the word "quick." His bill passed the House but didn't get support in the Senate. He plans to refile it, believing the time may be right.
If so, he won't be the only one spinning the Welden-Lee incident into fuel for politics and political commentary.
A Google search of Welden's name turns up thousands of hits. It has been invoked in a discussion of charges against Ariel Castro, the Ohio man alleged to have forced miscarriages on one of three captives.
The Welden-Lee story shows up on a basketball blog, spawning a debate over men's rights.
"Lee is the victim of a horrible crime, but the prosecutors will instead focus on an embryo the size of a pencil eraser," Amanda Marcotte vented in Slate.
A Salon writer called Welden's alleged behavior "repulsive."
And his bewildered jail mug is pinned up on the website of the Right to Life Committee.
• • •
Young, the Oklahoma woman, was a few months pregnant when the poisoning started.
Lee was at nearly 7 weeks, her attorney says.
Young doesn't believe in abortions. She had two children with her first husband, before she met Airman Boie, and two children with her current husband.
Lee once had an abortion, she said in a Tampa courtroom, during questioning by her ex-boyfriend's attorney. But she wanted this baby and a fresh start.
Young recalls offering to raise Boie's baby at home with her family in Oklahoma without his support. At the time, the two were living in Alaska.
Lee made a similar offer to Welden, prosecutors said.
Each woman described feeling wounded by the choices of men they thought they loved.
Young recalled thinking, "What was wrong with me that he wanted out of it so bad?"
Lee, in court, recalled thinking, "I don't know why this was so bad to have a baby with me."
Young now realizes that there was nothing wrong with her.
"Somebody who does something like that, there's a sickness in their head that you cannot justify or explain," she said.
It's all behind her now.
Not so for Lee.
If the Oklahoma woman could talk to the Tampa woman, here is what she thinks she would say:
It will take a while to get over this. Be patient. Don't be hard on yourself. Keep going. You might feel like crawling into a hole and dying, but it will get better.
"It will be okay," Young said. "You will find somebody who will show you that love is not supposed to be that way, and there is unconditional love that is good."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.