Source: Newsday (New York)
Pubdate: June 9, 2003
Aouthor: Sheryl McCarthy
Abortion Foes Exploit a Murder to Kill Roe v. Wade
When Scott Peterson goes on trial for the murder of his wife Laci last
Christmas Eve, he won't be charged with killing just one person, but two: Laci
and their unborn son, Conner.
California, like about half of the states, not including New York, makes it a
separate crime when a person committing a crime causes the death of an unborn
child. If Scott Peterson is convicted, it probably won't upset many people if he
gets the death penalty or two consecutive life sentences for a double murder.
But there's a problem with how this crime is being exploited by anti-abortion
forces under the guise of wanting to punish those who commit especially heinous
crimes. They're pushing for fetal murder laws, including a law that would make
it a federal crime to kill an unborn fetus during the commission of another
federal crime. The federal bill has even been renamed "Laci and Conner's Law."
As the law now stands, a woman clearly has the right to either carry her
pregnancy to term or have an abortion. A third party who comes along and
violently interferes with her pregnancy is another thing altogether. By
supporting fetal murder laws, anti-abortion forces are hoping to make an end run
around Roe v. Wade. Giving the fetus rights separate from the mother's opens the
door to making abortion illegal.
The moral dilemma for those of us who support a woman's right to choose is
that abortion involves choosing between two lives: the mother's and the unborn
child's. But since bearing, delivering and raising a child affects a woman's
health, mobility, freedom, standard of living and aspirations in a way that
nothing else does, my view is if she doesn't want to have a baby, it should be
her choice not to.
Laws and restrictions throughout history have purported to protect women
because of their unique role as childbearers. In reality they locked women into
a subordinate status: banning birth control and abortion; barring them from
voting, serving on juries or in the military; from running for office; going to
medical school; or working once they became pregnant.
Roe v. Wade struck the right balance, giving women the right to abortions
through the second trimester, and leaving it to the states after that. Giving
unborn children rights equal to those of the mother would allow the district
attorney, the school principal, the boss, even the bartender to tell women what
they can or can't do because they are or might become pregnant.
Lynn Paltrow, head of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a New York-based
advocacy group, observes that fetal murder laws are always turned on the women
and used to convict and imprison them for murder or child abuse, on the grounds
that they used drugs or alcohol or didn't get prenatal care.
Instead of fetal murder laws, pro-choicers support laws increasing the
criminal penalties when someone hurts both the woman and her unborn child, laws
that focus on the loss to the woman when her pregnancy is compromised.
The anti-abortion forces achieved another victory last week. The House of
Representatives passed the so-called partial birth abortion ban, a bill that was
vetoed by President Bill Clinton. The bill, which would impose fines and prison
sentences on doctors who perform a certain abortion procedure, is in fact so
broad that it could potentially outlaw the most commonly performed types of
abortions. An almost identical state bill was held unconstitutional by the
Supreme Court three years ago. But since both houses have passed it, and
President George W. Bush has promised to sign it, it will become law.
The anti-abortionists clearly hope that by the time the law is appealed to
the Supreme Court, the court will have tilted far enough to the right to uphold
These developments show that the anti-abortion forces are gaining.
"Their goal is to sensationalize this debate about a woman's right to choose
by exploiting these tragedies," says Kate Michelman, head of the National
Abortion Rights Action League-Pro- Choice America.
What all this proves, she says, is that it really does matter who gets