- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

The murder charge California prosecutors are seeking for the death of Laci Peterson's unborn son would not be allowed if the crime were being prosecuted under federal statutes, said supporters of legislation designed to close that loophole.
They hope the Peterson case will compel lawmakers to back legislation that would make it a crime to kill or injure an unborn fetus during the commission of federal crimes of violence, crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or crimes committed on federal land.
"It's the kind of thing that is focusing lawmakers' attention on the problem, which is that right now, justice cannot be done in the federal system or in the military system when an unborn child is killed," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.
"It gives impetus to a movement towards passing this type of legislation to protect unborn children," Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, said of the Peterson case. Mr. Chabot chairs the House Judiciary Constitution subcommittee, which will handle the bill.
Prosecutors in California have charged Scott Peterson, 30, with separate counts of murder in the deaths of his pregnant wife, Laci, 27, and their unborn son, Connor, whose remains were discovered in the San Francisco Bay. Under California law, intentionally killing a fetus is murder, with an exception for surgical abortions. About half the states have similar laws, but there is no federal equivalent. Federal law recognizes a crime only against the pregnant woman, not her unborn child.
"There is a gap in federal law," said Kevin Bishop, spokesman for Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and bill supporter.
Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, is the Senate sponsor of the bill designed to close that gap. Rep. Melissa A. Hart, Pennsylvania Republican, plans to introduce a companion bill in the House soon. The House has passed the bill twice, and likely will do so again this year. The Senate has never considered the measure.
A Senate Republican aide said no decision has been made if or when to move Mr. DeWine's bill in the chamber this year.
The legislation would allow separate charges to be filed for the harm or death of a fetus in the commission of certain federal crimes against the mother. The proposal would exclude legal abortion. Under the proposal, the perpetrator would not have to know that the woman was pregnant when he acted with criminal intent against her. The bill would apply in any stage of pregnancy.
In past years, House Democrats have offered an alternative proposal, which would increase the penalty for injuring a pregnant woman but would not allow separate charges for harm to the fetus.
Abortion-rights groups have staunchly opposed the bill in previous years, arguing that it creates new rights for the unborn that could lead to outlawing abortion.
Supporters point to cases they say highlight the need for the bill:
Army Sgt. Timothy Ward, serving at the Helemano Military Reservation in Honolulu, was convicted in 2000 and is serving 35 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Bianca, who was in the late stages of pregnancy. The unborn child did not survive, but no charges were brought for that death.
Ruth Coston was five months pregnant in 1998 when she was fatally shot in Charlotte, N.C., by her estranged husband, Reginald Anthony Falice, who had been living in Atlanta. He was prosecuted under federal law for interstate domestic violence and using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime, but no charges were brought for the death of the fetus.
In Ohio in 1996, an airman on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base beat his wife, who was eight months pregnant, and she lost the baby. This would be only an assault charge under federal law, but prosecutors were able to charge the man under an Ohio fetal-homicide law, and he pleaded guilty to assault and battery of his wife and involuntary man-slaughter of his unborn daughter.

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