Sponsors have press conference to educate and promote the bill
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — It’s called Ethen’s Law, but to every family who has lost an unborn child to murder or manslaughter, there is a different face to legislation that could have protected their little one or at least held his or her killer accountable. Lawmakers and families gathered at the Capitol Thursday, March 3, to push for passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (House Bill 215), filed Wednesday with four hopeful and determined sponsors and 31 co-sponsors.
“There are only 15 states in the United States that do not recognize the unborn as victims of violence,” said Rep. Mark Hilton (R-Catawba). “We are here today to make sure North Carolina comes off that list. Ours is the only state in the Southeast that has yet to pass this legislation.”
Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) said he first filed a similar bill in 1987 after a Caldwell County woman just weeks away from giving birth was hit head-on by a drunken driver and lost her baby as a result.
“The D.A. (district attorney) charged the drunk driver with killing her unborn child, but it was thrown out by the judge who said ‘it’s not against the law in North Carolina to kill an unborn child,'” Starnes said. “That was an injustice that lives to this day.”
He went on to reveal the ultimate irony of the case with the story of a hunter charged that same year by wildlife officers for shooting a doe out of season.
“It was determined that this doe was carrying two unborn fawns, so the gentlemen was charged with killing three deer. 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. “Hopefully this will be the year we can make that change in our statutes.”
Rep. Fred Steen (R-Rowan), who joined Hilton, Starnes and Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) as a primary sponsor, did it in part for Bianca Newman, the unborn daughter of LeeAnna Newman, who died with her in 2007. The drunken driver who hit the pregnant 20-year-old was convicted of second-degree murder for her death, but not Bianca’s.
“In North Carolina causing the demise of an otherwise viable fetus, in this case carried by LeeAnna Newman, is only an aggravating factor and not a felony. An aggravating factor can also be an empty beer can or an open container of liquor in a car when somebody is pulled over,” Steen said. “I, along with many other citizens in this state, find this shocking and unacceptable.”
In addition to lawmakers, those at the press conference heard from Durham resident Effie Steele, who spoke in memory of her grandson, Elijah Robinson, who was murdered three years ago along with his mother, Ebony Robinson, 21.
“I felt betrayed and robbed when the murderer of Ebony and Elijah was not charged with double homicide and was not made to pay for the life of my grandson,” she said. “… I just knew there were laws on the books that protect every citizen of North Carolina.”
“This is a human being, a human life issue, not a political or special interest group issue.” Steele said. “… If you were in my place and your grandchild was murdered, you would want justice for him or her too.”
She reminded the crowd that expectant parents don’t wait until a baby is born to begin thinking of him or her as a child, but do so as soon as the baby is conceived.
“This is for those who are hung up on when a baby is a baby,” she said, adding sadly, “There are more laws on the books to protect dogs, chickens and other animals and property than there is for a new human life, the life of a baby.”
The proposed legislation, like its federal counterpart which passed in 2004, would protect humans “at any stage of development” who are carried in the womb. Under Ethen’s Law, anyone who intentionally causes an unborn baby’s death via a malicious or reckless act or while committing a Class A felony could be charged with murder. The bill also includes parameters and penalties for cases in which the unborn are victims of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, assault and assault inflicting serious injury. It clearly excludes abortion under a list of exceptions and also clarifies the fact that the law cannot be used to impose criminal liability on an expectant mother who is the victim of acts of domestic violence that injure or kill her child.
Rep. Folwell pointed out that the bill would make law consistent across the state. As it is, only those crimes that occur on federal lands, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway or a military base, are covered under the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
He said it would also address the fact that many pregnant women are murdered because they are pregnant. In fact a study conducted by the Wake Forest School of Medicine from 1993 to 1997 showed that of the 297 pregnant women who died, 35 were murdered.
“This is a bill that is long, long overdue,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We urge Christians across the state to let their lawmakers know they support it. We must speak up for the unborn, for these pregnant women and their families.”
Sponsors said the Unborn Victims of Violence Act has long had strong support at the General Assembly, but has simply not been given a hearing. They expect more than 100 representatives would vote yes on the measure if it reaches the House floor.
Protecting the unborn is also a priority among North Carolina residents. A Civitas Institute poll showed 82 percent of likely voters support a fetal homicide law.
House Bill 215, referred to the Committee on Judiciary Subcommittee B and if favorable, Appropriations, would take effect Dec. 1 if it passes.
The date can’t come too soon for Kevin Blaine, father of Jenna Neilsen, who was eight and a half months pregnant with Ethen when she was murdered more than three years ago.
“It’s time we stand up and pass this law. It’s a common sense law… and it needs to be done this year,” said Blaine, who thanked lawmakers for naming the act after his grandson. “… So let’s do this, this time. Let’s listen to the constituents … let’s listen to our lawmakers. Let’s finally, finally talk about this and agree upon something and get this bill passed.”