By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
RALEIGH – Anyone who knowingly injures a pregnant woman in North Carolina could face harsher legal penalties under either of two new bills proposed in the N.C. Senate during the past two weeks. However, the laws would not recognize the fetus as a second victim, and in fact could hinder efforts to pass legislation that would protect the unborn, according to pro-life advocates.
“Single victim laws do not allow the State to prosecute defendants for the taking of two lives and therefore cannot bring justice for these victims or their families,” said Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to Life. “You can put a thousand penalties on a law regarding injury to a pregnant woman, but until you recognize the unborn child in these crimes, you’ve done nothing to solve the problem.”
Stiffer penalties for assaults on pregnant women have been a reality in the Tar Heel state since at least 1998. Senate Bill 26 would modify G.S. 14-18.2 so that someone causing a woman to have a miscarriage or stillbirth could be charged with a separate offense one class higher than the crime committed. Similarly, Senate Bill 13 would offer the second, higher level charge provided the woman had completed her 20th week of pregnancy.
Sen. Peter Brunstetter (R-Forsyth) primary sponsor of SB 26 and a supporter of SB 13, said Wednesday that he would prefer an Unborn Victims of Violence Bill but that “the reality in North Carolina is that the Democratic leadership of both the House and the Senate will not allow such a bill to even be heard in committee.”
He described N.C. Right to Life’s position as “all or nothing.”
“Meanwhile, the number of situations in which domestic violence results in the intentional death of the unborn child is increasing and the law provides no separate offense for that crime,” Brunstetter said. “We need to get an unborn victims statute on the books now and then work to improve it in future years when control of the Legislature changes.”
However, Holt said the proposed bills could do more harm than good in that they reinforce the idea that crimes against pregnant women have only one victim.
“We have got to keep pressing for what is right. This is not incrementalism toward a two-victim bill. This is getting entrenched into law a single-victim status and only talking about the pregnant woman,” Holt said. “That woman knows that she had a child and to not name that child as a victim is telling her she was the only one harmed.”
She said Senate Bill 13’s reference to a woman’s 20th week of pregnancy is drawing an arbitrary line that doesn’t make sense and again, doesn’t recognize the life of the unborn.
The introduction of Brunstetter’s bill explains what he sees as the need for the law, stating, in part, “whereas, an unlawful act that results in the death of a fetus or unborn child should be recognized as a separate criminal offense in this State, as it has been recognized in a majority of state jurisdictions in the United States ….” But Holt points out that, if the bill passes, the “Whereas” statements do not become part of the actual law, which she said sounds similar to the language used by abortion proponents such as California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“Feinstein has refused to recognize the unborn child in any legal context, offering substitute language specifically removing any reference whatsoever to the child in utero,” Holt said. “In this way, Senate Bill 13 is similar to the Feinstein single-victim substitute that Congress ultimately rejected.”
What they did pass in 2004, the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act or “Laci and Conner’s Law,” has become a rallying cry of sorts for families who have lost preborn loved ones to brutal attacks and reject any attempt to deny that the crimes have two victims.
“I hope that every legislator will clearly understand that adoption of such a single-victim amendment would be a painful blow to those, like me, who are left alive after a two-victim crime, because Congress would be saying that Conner and other innocent unborn victims like him are not really victims – indeed, that they never really existed at all,” wrote Sharon Rocha, the mother of Laci Peterson and grandmother of Conner Peterson, both slain in a domestic violence attack. “A legislator who votes for the single victim amendment, however well motivated, votes to add insult to injury.”
Holt said legislation that doesn’t acknowledge two victims is “just another slap in the face” to families seeking justice for their loved ones.
She urges Christians to contact their legislators and make it clear that Senate bills 13 and 26 do not recognize the unborn child and should not be supported.
Both bills have been referred to the Committee on Judiciary I. One or more companion bills are expected to be introduced in the N.C. House.