Politics & Policy

Conner, Ashley & Landon

Calling a murder a murder.

In a memorable exchange on July 16, 2000, NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert asked Al Gore whether he agreed that federal law should prohibit a death sentence from being carried out on a pregnant woman.

Gore replied, “I’d want to think about it.”

Most lawmakers did not have to think about it for very long.

Nine days later, the House of Representatives passed a two-sentence-long bill to prohibit any state or federal authority from carrying out a sentence of death on a woman “while she carries a child in utero,” defined as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

The roll call was 417 to 0.

Very soon, the Senate will vote on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (H.R. 1997), which is also titled “Laci and Conner’s Law.” This bill will would recognize that when a criminal commits a federal crime against a pregnant woman, and also injures or kills her unborn child, he has claimed two victims. The bill would recognize as a victim, for federal and criminal law purposes, any “child in utero,” again defined as “a member of species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

Pro-abortion advocacy groups are backing a radically different substitute bill offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), which would actually write into federal law the doctrine that these crimes have only a single victim.

Sharon Rocha lost her daughter Laci Peterson and unborn grandson Conner to a murderer in December 2002. The state of California will soon place Scott Peterson on trial on two counts of homicide in that case. (California is among the 29 states that already prosecute for fetal homicide, most of them applying this protection during all of pregnancy, the rest during part of it.)

In a statement released after the House of Representatives passed the bill (254-163) on February 26, Rocha said, “I am dismayed that my own senators from California, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, are standing in the way. Senator Feinstein has a bill that says that crimes like the murder of Laci and Conner have only one victim. But Laci knew that Conner was her son, and I know it too. Two people, Laci and Conner, would be here with us today if they had not been murdered. There were two victims in this crime, not one. I call upon Senators Feinstein and Boxer to recognize that reality, and support Laci and Conner’s law.”

In Scott County, Kentucky, Ashley Lyons, 18, was found shot to death in her car on January 7. Only hours earlier, she and her mother, Carol, had watched a brand-new ultrasound videotape of Ashley’s unborn son, Landon. Days after the murder, Ashley’s parents learned that in Kentucky law, Landon had no legal existence.

“Nobody can tell me that there were not two victims,” Carol Lyons said. “I placed Landon in his mother’s arms, wrapped in a baby blanket that I had sewn for him, just before I kissed my daughter good-bye for the last time and closed the casket.” (In February, the Kentucky legislature enacted a fetal homicide bill.)

Christina Alberts, 20, and unborn daughter, Ashley Nichole Alberts, were killed during an armed robbery in Christina’s home in South Charleston in 1998. Because the state has no fetal homicide law, state prosecutors were not able to bring any charge against the robbers for Ashley’s death.

“When I laid my daughter to rest, a baby girl lay in her arms,” said Christina’s mother, Stephanie Alberts, who is a nurse. “Ashley was a beautiful little girl with dark brown hair, a little upturned nose, ten fingers and ten toes. She was a little girl that had the right to be born and grow and pursue her dreams. All of that was taken from her, with full knowledge, and yet no one is held accountable for that.”

Alberts also explained, “Ashley could have survived, according to obstetricians we have talked with, up to ten minutes following Christina’s death. Her demise was neither painless nor quick.”

In effect, senators are being urged by the pro-abortion-advocacy groups to tell Sharon Rocha, Carol Lyons, Stephanie Alberts, and many others like them that they are mistaken in their belief that criminals cut short the lives of real members of their families–children who were already loved, although still unborn.

It is to be hoped that most senators will not have to think about it for very long.

Douglas Johnson is legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in Washington.

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