Friday, May 4, 2001

At the heart of the abortion-rights battle lies a deadly denial of reality.

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which passed the House late last month, threatens a carefully constructed worldview, hence the agitated opposition it has aroused.

H.R. 503, approved by a 252-to-172 vote, makes it a federal offense to cause injury or death to a fetus (defined as ” a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb”) in the course of committing one of 68 other federal crimes. Abortion, or harm caused by the mother, is exempted.

“The legislation is a deceptive and dangerous attack on a woman’s right to choose, disguised as an effort to protect women from violence,” charged the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Sponsors of H.R. 503 are exploiting “unfortunate tragedies to advance their anti-choice, anti-woman agenda,” Planned Parenthood snarled.

Now, let me see if I understand this. According to the abortion lobby, if a woman is carrying a child she wants, and someone deliberately causes its death, it is anti-woman to punish the attacker for destroying the life in her womb.

Tracy Marciniak doesn’t think so.

On the evening of Feb. 8, 1992, Marciniak was four days away from her due date. She had named her unborn child Zachariah. The man who was then her husband beat her brutally to cause a miscarriage. Marciniak: “He punched me very hard twice in the abdomen. Then he refused to call for help, and prevented me from doing so.”

When she finally made it to a hospital, her son was delivered dead. Because Wisconsin had no fetal homicide law at the time (it adopted one in 1998), her husband was convicted of assaulting her, but did not receive so much as a day in jail for murdering her child. In the face of such horrors, 24 states have passed laws criminalizing fetal homicide.

Marciniak has a message for opponents of H.R. 503: “Please hear me on this. On the night of Feb. 8, 1992, there were two victims. I was nearly killed — but I survived. Little Zachariah died.”

The bill has nothing — and everything — to do with abortion. Opponents are intimidated by seven words (“a member of the species Homo sapiens”). In the House, they offered a substitute with neutral language, providing a stiffer penalty for harm done to the mother which also “interferes with the normal course of the pregnancy.”

It’s instructive to witness the mental gymnastics of abortion advocates. Under the substitute, someone who killed a pregnant woman would have been punished for one murder and one act of interfering with … what — a process, a condition? Opponents of H.R. 503 can’t be specific because to do so would imply that the fetus is something other than a thing.

“A member of the species Homo sapiens?” But what else could it be? It has that species’ genetic code.

At 10 to 12 weeks of development, it has a beating human heart, as well as other human organs, formed but not fully developed. If nature is allowed to take its course (in Marciniak’s case, in a matter of hours), it will emerge from the womb with an identity apparent even to the most myopic.

When we know that a woman is pregnant, we instinctively identify the life she’s carrying as human. Have you ever heard an officeworker greeting a pregnant colleague at the water cooler with, “Well, how’s the fetus doing?”

Still, one side of the debate is forced to play semantic games.

In 1994, NARAL President Kate Michelman was put in an uncomfortable position, after she told an interviewer, “We think abortion is a bad thing.” Michelman at first denied making the statement, then explained she had misspoken.

What else could she do? Bad is a moral judgment. It suggests there’s something wrong with the act under scrutiny, which implies that someone’s rights have been violated. But whose? Surely not the woman who voluntarily seeks an abortion or the abortionist.

With the support of President George Bush, the legislative battle now moves to the Senate. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act addresses one aspect of a far-reaching tragedy.

There are 1.2 million unborn victims of violence in this country each year. Some die in the course of a crime. Most are killed by a lie.

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