Two staunchly pro-life NC lawmakers try to find a way and North Carolina Right to Life says it will take a change in leadership
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
GOLDSBORO — It took just a few hours on Tuesday for the jury to convict Cesar Laurean, 23, of bludgeoning to death fellow Marine Maria Lauterbach, 20. But neither the verdict nor the sentence — life in prison without parole — address his murder of Lauterbach’s unborn child, nor could it since North Carolina has no law against such a crime.
“I feel so sorry for your daughter,” the victim’s mother, Mary Lauterbach, told Laurean after the verdict was announced. “She will have to live with the shame that her father is in prison for murdering not one but two people.”
Lauterbach was eight months pregnant when she was killed in December 2007. In at least 38 states, her baby — Gabriel Joseph — would have been recognized as the victim of a homicide, resulting in a double murder charge. But, despite repeated efforts of dozens of lawmakers to pass such a law in North Carolina, it has not happened.
“Right now North Carolina prosecutors can’t do anything to charge for the crime against the baby,” Rep. Mark Hilton (R-Catawba) said early last year when he filed House Bill 890. “We are working to change that.”
Hilton’s Unborn Victims of Violence Act would allow for anyone who kills or seriously injures a pregnant woman to be charged with a second crime for taking the life of her unborn child. But the bill, similar to the federal law known as the Laci and Conner Peterson Act, was referred to the Committee on Judiciary I, with serial referrals to the Health and Appropriations committees, and was never heard.
Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth), who supports Hilton’s proposed legislation, said none of the fetal homicide bills filed in the last decade had made progress. He blames not only the General Assembly leadership but also the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which has lobbied against any such protection for the unborn.
According to an NCCADV position statement, the organization “wants to ensure that the focus of a prosecution for death of a pregnant woman remains on the death of the woman” and is concerned that fetal homicide laws could “lead to holding a pregnant victim of domestic violence responsible for the death of her child because she did not ‘protect’ her unborn child from a batterer.”
Abortion proponents also oppose such bills saying they could erode a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.
But Folwell has made it clear that the legislation has nothing to do with abortion, nor could it be used to prosecute pregnant women for putting their unborn babies in harm’s way. Instead it would punish those “who cause the termination of a pregnancy during an illegal action.”
A Wake Forest School of Medicine study showed that 35 of the 297 pregnant women who died between 1993 and 1997 were murdered. According to a survey conducted by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, one of every eight pregnant adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 reported physical assault by the baby’s father. Of these, 40 percent also reported violence at the hands of a relative.
“We’re having enough pregnant women killed in North Carolina. We don’t need to kill this bill,” Folwell said.
Though he said he personally preferred Hilton’s proposal which would protect the unborn beginning with conception, in an effort to build consensus Folwell filed another bill that would apply to crimes against only those women who are at least 20 weeks along in their pregnancy.
“I was trying to draft a bill that reflected where North Carolina is on the issue,” Folwell said in explaining House Bill 1503 — Ethen’s Law/Injury to Pregnant Women.
The bill was named after Ethen Nielsen, who was murdered in utero when his mother Jenna was attacked as she restocked USA Today boxes in Raleigh in June 2007. She was more than eight months pregnant and the autopsy showed Ethen weighed 6.35 pounds and was 19.9 inches long.
Folwell said it is the family members, not only of Ethen, but many other tiny and defenseless victims, who inspire him to push for legislation sooner rather than later, even if that means compromising by adding the 20-week gestation clause.
“When you look into the eyes of someone who has lost a child and grandchild simultaneously, you have to keep your promise, and I promised I would do everything I could to get a bill heard in committee and get a bill onto the floor,” he said.
But North Carolina Right to Life President Barbara Holt says Folwell’s bill is worse than no bill at all.
“It does not mention the unborn child; therefore, it is not a two-victim bill. His bill only recognizes the ‘pregnant woman’ as the victim and then applies a second penalty if she is beyond her 20th week of pregnancy,” Holt said. “We absolutely oppose it because it does not provide justice for those families who have lost two family members.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of March 2010, 21 states have laws that protect the unborn beginning with conception with another 17 states recognizing the fetus as a separate victim during at least part of the pregnancy.
“Not only are we out of step with the rest of the country but also with the very people we’re supposed to represent in North Carolina,” Folwell said.
According to a Civitas Institute poll, 82 percent of North Carolinians support a fetal homicide law. An informal Poll Daddy survey conducted in the spring of 2009 on MyNC.com showed similar results at 84 percent.
Even so, Holt said getting an Unborn Victims of Violence bill through the General Assembly would require a change in leadership.
“People need to make their voices heard at the polls beginning on Oct. 14 when early voting begins,” she said. “If folks want pro-life laws, then they must educate themselves on where the candidates stand on these issues.”
Rep. Folwell suggests that supporters of the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence challenge the organization’s stance and withdraw their donations unless it changes.
“Many of these women are being killed because they are pregnant, and for the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence to lobby against this bill is unbelievable,” he said.
Family members of Janet Abaroa, who was murdered in her Durham home in April 2005, express a similar belief about what motivates some killers.
“It needs to be understood that in many murder cases that involve an unborn child the motivation of ending that unborn child’s life is the primary driving force to commit the murder of the mother,” the family wrote in a statement on their www.tearsforjanet.com Web site. “The state of North Carolina needs to recognize and accept this by passing the fetal homicide law.”
Abaroa was very early in her pregnancy when she was stabbed to death. Her husband was charged with her murder earlier this year.
“Sadly, whatever the motive, these cases happen all too often. Innocent babies are slain before they even get a chance at life outside the womb,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “Although not everyone agrees on the finer points of the proposed legislation, one thing is absolutely clear, when lawmakers come back to Raleigh they need to be prepared to pass an Unborn Victims of Violence Act.”