Warning: Audio posted of Effie Steele’s testimony at the end of this story is highly emotional, but profoundly powerful
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — “I’m not here because of politics. I’m not here to pit one group against another group. I’m just a Mom and a Grandmama,” Effie Steele told lawmakers in the House Judiciary Subcommittee B on Wednesday as she implored them to pass legislation to protect the unborn from violence. “All I want is justice for Elijah and all the other unborn babies. …”
Like any grandmother, Steele doesn’t hesitate to show people a picture of her grandson, Elijah. At 21 inches long and 6.5 pounds, he’s no different from most newborns, except that his mother was brutally murdered days before he would have been born. Shocked and betrayed when Ebony Robinson’s killer was not also charged for murdering Elijah, the Durham woman said the need for Ethen’s Law, which would recognize that crimes against pregnant women involve two victims, is not hard to grasp.
“It doesn’t take a lot to understand this issue. It’s about a baby. It’s about a human being,” Steele cried. “We protect our animals. We will send somebody to prison for dogfighting. We will give people time and fine them for killing deer, for killing dogs. You see on TV all the time, they are always protecting the animals.”
Steele said it’s a different story when it comes to the unborn.
“Everybody gets protection; everybody gets attention. Rules and laws are made for everything else but for our babies. …” she said, reiterating the fact that the bill doesn’t infringe on abortion rights nor would it hold victims of domestic violence responsible for protecting the children they carry. “All we want is justice for the unborn victims. These women who were murdered wanted their babies.”
Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) asked legislators to listen not only with their ears, but with their hearts, their stomachs and their brains as they considered an issue that has been introduced every session for nearly 25 years and has become law in all but 15 states. Fellow bill sponsor Rep. Mark Hilton (R-Catawba) told the committee that the proposed law mirrors the national legislation that already protects the unborn on places like the Blue Ridge Parkway and other federal lands. He said district attorneys support the law and want it as a tool to help deter crime as well as a way to bring justice to family members.
Sponsors Fred Steen (R-Rowan) and Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) explained their support of the bill by describing crimes in their districts that have gone unpunished for lack of such a law. Representatives of the North Carolina Family Policy Council and the Christian Action League also spoke in favor of House Bill 215, which was explained in detail by legislative staff attorney Hal Pell who clarified how the proposed committee substitute differed from the original bill and how it compares to similar laws in other states.
According to the bill, it would not matter whether a perpetrator knew his victim was pregnant. If he intended harm to the woman, Pell explained, that intent would transfer to the victim, just as in current law if a shooter aims to kill one person but misses and hits another, he can still be charged with murder. Similarly to the state’s felony murder rule, under House Bill 215 if a perpetrator causes the death of a baby in the womb during the commission of a felony, he can be charged with the death of the unborn child. No charge under the law would be a capital offense. Instead, the punishment would be life in prison without parole.
Pell further explained the portions of the law that clearly state that it does not apply to abortion, nor could it be used to charge a woman whose pregnancy ends in miscarriage or still birth.
Both Rep. Folwell and Christian Action League Executive Director Mark Creech quoted Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, a staunch defender of abortion, as saying that “… we would all agree that if a woman were pregnant and desperately wanted to have a child, and a man attacked her and beat her stomach purposely in order to kill that fetus, that that would be an extremely serious crime. Even if the mother herself wasn’t hurt, killing of the fetus would be a serious crime when done against a woman who wanted to give birth to the child. So we know that the fetus in the body of a woman who wants to bear it as a child has a protected legal status – it ought to have a protected legal status …”
Folwell told the committee he could provide testimony from the left, the center and the right in support of an Unborn Victims of Violence law.
Even so, American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Sarah Preston said her group opposes the bill because “without the knowledge that the woman was pregnant and without the intent to do harm to both the woman and the expected child one of the elements that makes this act so heinous is missing.” She said the bill would cause pregnant women to be subject to more scrutiny should they lose a pregnancy.
“It will be no surprise to you to know that the ACLU opposed my bill in 1987 as well; so nothing has changed except that there have been a lot of innocent babies that have died and crimes have gone unpunished,” said Rep. Starnes.
Rep. Henry Michaux (D-Durham) and Rep. Martin questioned how the principle of transfer of intent could be applied to the charge of assault. Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) said he had concerns about whether the bill could be used to prosecute a woman for a self-inflicted injury. The bill sponsors said they had been careful to include language to make sure the bill would not apply to the pregnant woman and that they would welcome input to clarify that aspect of the law even further.
Apparently in opposition to the measure, Rep. Phillip Haire (D-Haywood) offered a series of scenarios challenging the law’s implementation.
“Are we going to require that every woman that is in some way killed whether it be accidentally or not have an autopsy to determine whether or not she is pregnant?” he demanded. “If it is done, who pays for it?”
“No, the district attorney and police do what they normally do,” Chairman Paul Stam (R-Wake) assured him. “If they see evidence of a crime they decide what to investigate. That seems fairly obvious to me.”
Rev. Creech told the committee that the Christian Action League, representing hundreds of conservative evangelical churches across the state, had supported the Unborn Victims of Violence bill since it was introduced, long before the deaths of Jenna Nielsen and her son Ethen, for whom it is now named.
“There’s an Old Testament passage from Genesis that says that when Cain murdered his brother, Abel, his blood cried out to God from the ground. If the blood of one murder victim cries out to God from the ground then how much greater is the cry of two?” he said. “I suggest that the real question before this committee is whether we will finally hear in North Carolina, the cries of both Jenna and Ethen’s blood for justice as well as the others whose blood cries out for the same.”
Judiciary Subcommittee B did not vote on the bill but the group is expected to take it up again soon. If it passes the Subcommittee, it will then go to House Appropriations.
Warning: The audio posted here of Effie Steele’s (mother of murder victim, Ebony Robinson, and grandmother of her daughter’s unborn child, Elijah) remarks before the House Judiciary B Committee is incredibly emotional, but also profoundly powerful. “Ms. Steele’s testimony said it all, I think,” said Rev. Creech. “I would that everyone could have heard it.” To listen to Steele’s testimony Click Here