NAPW
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 it.

   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 elected.




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