TAMPA — The parents of a woman who says she was tricked into taking an abortion pill called on Florida lawmakers Monday to make such deceit a crime.
Rosa and James Edward Lee joined their attorney at a news conference to express their outrage over their daughter's loss of a pregnancy.
Federal prosecutors say that Remee Lee's ex-boyfriend, John Andrew Welden, gave her the labor-inducing drug Cytotec disguised as a harmless antibiotic because he didn't want to be a father.
"One sees faces and not hearts," Rosa Lee said. "I could never imagine that this man would be capable of putting my daughter's life at risk and killing his own fetus."
"We do not want this to happen to any other daughter and request action from our state legislators to pass laws criminalizing this activity," her husband said.
Remee Lee, 26, was nearly 7 weeks along when she lost what was technically still an embryo.
Criminal charges against Welden were brought in federal court, not state court, because Florida's fetal homicide laws don't recognize early stages of gestation. More than two dozen other states recognize all stages, according to organizations that track such laws, which typically exclude voluntary abortions.
Last week, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged Welden with product tampering and first-degree murder under the rarely used federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, which defines "unborn child" as "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb."
If someone ends such a life during the commission of another separate federal crime — including product tampering — federal law considers it murder.
Welden, 28, could face life in prison. The government alleges that his actions were premeditated.
Does Remee Lee, whose love for Welden at least briefly survived the incident, want that to happen? She wasn't in attendance Monday. Her father, employed as a maintenance worker, described her as "tearful."
He wouldn't comment when asked about her wishes.
But he talked about what he wants.
"I would like to see him severely punished," he said.
His wife said she was "devastated" by what had happened and asked that others keep Remee in their prayers.
She called the loss of the pregnancy "a tragedy for all of us — for my daughter, for my husband, for me. A tragedy, something very difficult to comprehend."
The case is being closely watched by those who seek to shape policies relating to abortion rights.
The news conference, conducted in both English and Spanish, drew about 20 journalists, though it was held on an asphalt parking lot on a sweltering May afternoon, outside the South Tampa law firm of Sanchez Valencia.
"The entire country is shocked by what transpired," said Tampa attorney Gil Sanchez III, who represents Remee Lee.
He filed a civil lawsuit on her behalf, claiming battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit was filed against Welden, on the day of his arrest, but the attorney said he will look at whether others may be culpable.
The lawsuit's timing was coincidental, he said. He knew of an investigation by local law enforcement but did not know of the pending federal charges.
Like Lee's parents, he called for wider protections for the unborn.
He said Florida needs a law that mirrors the federal law.
"We need to make sure there's a state law that criminalizes it the same way it does in federal court," he said.
He wants to call it the "Remee Lee Law."
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Alexandra Zayas contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.