Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Suffer the little children, unborn too

Commentary by David Reinhard


David Reinhard

Why do Oregon Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown and Senate Bill 712 backers want to protect pregnant women from violence? Why does the Portland Democrat want to elevate charges on violent crimes if a woman is pregnant?

After all, a pregnant woman already has all the legal protections that other Oregonians enjoy. Why should some brute who beats up or murders a pregnant woman face extra charges? What makes a pregnant woman so special?

Of course, we all know the answer. It's etched in our hearts. There are two victims: the pregnant woman and her unborn baby. Yet Brown and many SB 712 supporters can't bring themselves to utter this truth, which is why they're pushing their logically incoherent bill and opposing House Bill 2020.

You see, HB 2020 -- the Unborn Victims of Violence Act -- declares what any women who's said "We're having a baby" or any man who's gazed in awe at an ultrasound knows: There are two victims, not one, when a pregnant woman is beaten or killed. HB 2020 expands Oregon's homicide law to include causing death to an unborn child and creates the crime of assault on one, as well. It defines "unborn child" as "a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development while carried in the womb."

The actual presence of an "unborn child" probably has something to do with Brown and SB 712 backers wanting special charges when pregnant women are victims of violent crime, but we're left to guess why they think a crime against a pregnant woman is special. Why? They fret that acknowledging a second victim or an "unborn child" will somehow, some way, someday take away the constitutional right to an abortion. Such is the cold-hearted extremism of today's abortion-rights movement. They've turned a mother's love for her unborn child into the love that dare not speak its name.

And for what? HB 2020 specifically exempts "a lawful abortion performed with the pregnant woman's consent . . . or with the consent of a person authorized to act on the pregnant woman's behalf." If this doesn't dispose of the bogus abortion issue, state and federal courts have consistently ruled that state "fetal homicide" laws don't conflict with the abortion right.

Neither does a state's acknowledgment of an "unborn child's" interests. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to throw out a Missouri law that did so in the 1989 case Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.

This may be one reason abortion-rights advocates -- as opposed to zealots -- don't see a problem with fetal homicide laws such as HB 2020. As Walter Dellinger, the Clinton administration's former solicitor general, said when the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act was on its way into law, "I don't think they undermine Roe v. Wade. The legislatures can decide that fetuses are deserving of protection without (saying) . . . that the entity being protected has freestanding constitutional rights."

Ron Grantski is pro-choice. He's Laci Peterson's stepfather and Connor Peterson's grandfather. He was scheduled Monday to testify in Salem in favor of HB 2020. Grantski knows there are two victims.

While Brown and company worry about fanciful threats to abortion tucked in HB 2020, SB 712 has its own practical and hideous impact. It would leave in place the legal regime we have today: If a pregnant Oregon woman survives an attack that kills her unborn baby, there would be no prosecution for the unborn child's murder. You see, the mom is the only victim.

Which would be news to the mom.

It was to Tracy Marciniak. This Wisconsin woman had a son who was killed in her womb when she was brutally beaten. Prosecutors said they only could charge the man who attacked her with assault. In the eyes of the law, nobody died in the attack.

It's a notion that's hard to fathom when you see the photo of Marciniak holding her son Zachariah at his funeral. It sure looks like a sleeping child.

The eyes of the law? I'd like SB 712 supporters and HB 2020 opponents to look into the eyes of Marciniak or Oregon's future Marciniaks and tell them nobody died in the attack.

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