By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) has for years spoken out for those who have no voice — mothers and unborn babies killed by violence in North Carolina. This year, fellow lawmakers not only heard the message, but took action.
Ethen’s Law — which mirrors Laci and Conner’s Law at the federal level and recognizes that when a pregnant woman is injured or killed there is more than one victim — passed 45 to 4 in the Senate and 77 to 40 in the House. After Tuesday’s concurrence vote, it is now headed to the Governor’s desk.
“This is a wonderful victory that has been a long time in coming,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Though we know those whose pregnant loved ones have been killed are still mourning a double loss, we hope this will help ease their pain. And we appreciate their valiant efforts to ensure that families of future victims won’t be so poorly treated by our state.”
Though some lawmakers floated amendments that would have weakened the bill by limiting its effects to babies in the later stages of development or to cases in which it could be proven that the perpetrator knew the victim was pregnant, the majority strongly defended its provisions and welcomed a chance to pass the law, especially since similar legislation had been introduced every session for nearly a quarter of a century but had never been granted a hearing.
“Like Rep. Dale Folwell stated during debate on the House floor, we wish this bill had not even been discussed at all because we wish it were not necessary, but it is,” the Rev. Creech added. “We are grateful that he and other dedicated lawmakers did not give up on it.”
Folwell (R-Forsyth), Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell), Fred Steen (R-Rowan) and Mark Hilton (R-Catawba) were the bill’s primary sponsors this session and each, during committee discussions, made sure to recognize former Rep. Trudi Walend and other lawmakers no longer in the General Assembly who had championed the cause before them. Perhaps most importantly, those shepherding the bill helped families share their personal stories of loss at the hands of murderers or drunken drivers and then their feelings of betrayal when the state refused to recognize their unborn children or grandchildren.
Lawmakers heard from the grandfather of Ethen Nielsen, for whom the bill was named. Kevin Blaine told them of the murder of his daughter, Jenna, who was weeks away from delivering Ethen when she was stabbed to death. They heard from Effie Steele, who lost her daughter Ebony and unborn grandson Elijah, also at the hands of a murderer, and from Brenda Greer who explained how her choice to raise her daughter was stripped from her by a drunken driver days before Candy’s due date.
It was her story and the fact that the same year Candy died in the wreck, a nearby hunter was charged with killing a doe out of season that Starnes has shared countless times. He said that while the hunter faced three charges, one for the doe and two more for the fawns she carried, the criminal who took Candy’s life was never held accountable for it because she was considered only an “aggravated factor” or an “entity of interest” to the state.
“If it’s against the law in N.C. to kill an unborn deer, then it ought to be against the law to kill an unborn child,” Starnes said when House Bill 215 was filed in early March. “Hopefully this will be the year we can make that change in our statutes.”
Ethen’s law has now been sent to the Governor for her signature. If she does not sign the measure it will automatically become law within ten days from the time it reaches her desk.
The bill is set to take effect Dec. 1.