It's a picture we've all seen—a smiling Laci Peterson showing
off her pregnant belly. Unfortunately, we also know the story that follows:
Laci disappeared last Christmas Eve. Her body and that of her unborn son, Conner,
were found nearly four months later on the shore of San Francisco Bay. Her husband,
Scott, has been charged with two counts of murder.
Another picture tells a similar story, but this story has a somewhat
different ending. The picture is of Tracy Marciniak holding her son, Zachariah.
The only indication that Zachariah is not sleeping is the tiny coffin in the
Tracy was five days from her due date when her husband attacked
her on the night of February 8, 1992, punching her in the stomach. Tracy, though
injured, survived. Zachariah did not.
To make things worse, Tracy was told at the hospital that her husband
could not be tried for murder because, at the time, Wisconsin law did not consider
Zachariah a person. (Wisconsin has since implemented a fetal homicide law that
recognizes unborn children as victims.)
"There were two victims. He got away with murder," Marciniak said
as she recounted her story this past July before a U.S. House Subcommittee on
the Constitution. She was there to gain support for the Unborn Victims of Violence
Act (UVVA), also referred to as Laci and Conner's Law at the request of Laci's
mom, Sharon Rocha.
Taking the Issue to the Federal Level
The UVVA would recognize an unborn child as a legal victim
of a crime if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of a federal
crime. It would apply only to federal crimes, such as bank robberies or those
committed on military bases, in which "a child in utero" is harmed or killed
"at any stage of development." The bill does not, however, apply to abortion
or the acts of the woman herself.
This is the third time the UVVA has come before Congress. The bill
originated in 1999 and was passed by the House that year and in 2001. The Senate
didn't take the bill up either time due to strong opposition from groups such
as Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Those
organizations argue that the bill is nothing more than a way for pro-life groups
to chip away at current pro-abortion laws.
At the time of this writing, the bill is in committee in the House
(H.R. 1997), and is on the calendar in the Senate (S. 1019), but no action has
been taken. A number of Democratic senators have said they would like to propose
amendments to the bill, but have not yet done so.
One of the amendments expected to be proposed is the "single-victim
substitute" amendment, which calls for stricter penalties when a crime committed
against a pregnant woman results in the loss of her baby, but does not legally
recognize the child as a victim.
Cathleen Cleaver, director of planning and information for the U.S.
bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, has repeatedly urged passage of
the UVVA. Following the July 8 House hearing, Cleaver said, "When pregnant women
and their babies are subject to violence, justice demands recognition of both
victims. Anything less is an affront to women and their children."
The National Right to Life Committee, which helped originate the
bill, is also pushing for the bill's passage with Marciniak's help. And they
feel that they have the will of the American people on their side.
According to a recent poll in Newsweek magazine, conducted
by Princeton Research Associates, nearly half of Americans believe human life
begins at fertilization. Only 11 percent believe it begins at birth.
President George W. Bush has said he supports the law and would
like to see it passed sometime this year.
Just One Piece of the Puzzle
The scope of Laci and Conner's Law is limited. Even Sharon
Rocha and Tracy Marciniak acknowledge this, noting that in both cases it would
not have applied because they were not federal crimes.
But they are quick to point out that situations like theirs do and
will continue to occur within the realm of this law. That prospect alone, they
say, should be reason for passage.
And Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.), one of the bill's chief sponsors, hopes the
federal law will encourage states to enact similar bills.
"There's a ripple effect sometimes, and hopefully this legislation
will help to get that moving," she said.
At this time, 26 states have laws that recognize unborn children
as victims when they are injured or killed during a crime. That means that in
the 24 states that don't have such legislation when a pregnant woman's child
dies as the result of a violent crime, the mother would be told there was no
Make Your Voice Heard
There are times in life when you must decide whether to stand
up and be counted or sit by and do nothing. This is one of those times.
Contact your representatives in Congress and urge them to support this bill.
Find out if your state has a fetal homicide law. (A list
is posted at www. nrlc.org).
If your state doesn't have a fetal homicide law,
contact your state representatives and let them know you
think it should.
Tracy Marciniak was told that her son was not a real victim of a real
crime. As a mother of two myself, I don't want another mom
to have to hear those words. Do you? S.H.B.