Sharon Rocha — whose pregnant daughter, Laci Peterson, and unborn grandson Conner were slain — is urging Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle to actively support legislation that would criminalize the killing or injuring of a fetus while committing certain federal offenses against a pregnant woman.
“When a criminal attacks a woman who carries an unborn child, he claims two victims,” Mrs. Rocha wrote in a June 16 letter to Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Republicans have been pushing to bring the bill, named “Laci and Conner’s law” at the family’s request, to the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he would like to do so this month.
“If you, as Democratic leader, were also to announce your support, I believe that the bill would quickly become law,” Mrs. Rocha wrote to Mr. Daschle. “But without your support, the bill might be weighed down with controversial amendments on unrelated issues and other obstructionist tactics that could keep it from passing.”
Mrs. Rocha confirmed in an e-mail that she sent the letter to Mr. Daschle.
Jay Carson, spokesman for Mr. Daschle, said his boss “believes that in crimes like this, there is more than one victim and the law should reflect that, as it already does in much of the country, including California and his home state of South Dakota.”
Mr. Daschle, in a reply, wrote,”Like you, I believe Congress should take timely action to prevent these crimes and increase penalties for them.” Mr. Daschle said he agrees with Mr. Frist that Congress should “consider this issue expeditiously.”
Mr. Carson could not say definitively whether Mr. Daschle supports the legislation. Mr. Daschle was unreachable for comment at the time.
Prosecutors in California have charged Scott Peterson, 30, with separate counts of murder in the deaths of Mrs. Peterson, 27, and Conner, whose decomposing bodies were found in April in Richmond, Calif., on rocks above the high-tide marks of 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 equivalent in federal law, which recognizes a crime only against the pregnant woman.
The legislation would close this gap by making it a separate crime to hurt a fetus at any stage of pregnancy during the commission of federal crimes of violence, crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or crimes committed on federal land. 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.
The House has passed the bill twice, and probably will again this year. The Senate has never considered the measure.
Congressional Democrats have pushed an alternative proposal in the past, which would increase penalties for crimes against pregnant women without recognizing the fetus as a second victim.
Mrs. Rocha said she heard this alternative will also be offered in the Senate, and a Senate Democratic aide confirmed that some sort of alternative will probably be offered.
But Mrs. Rocha flatly rejected the single-victim concept, saying its passage would be “a painful blow” because lawmakers “would be saying that Conner and other innocent victims like him are not really victims — indeed, that they never really existed at all.”
On the contrary, she said, “Our grandson did live. He had a name. He was loved, and his life was violently taken from him before he ever saw the sun.”
Senate Republicans recently tried to negotiate a unanimous-consent agreement to bring up the bill in July, but Democrats objected, said a Senate Republican leadership aide. The aide did not know which Democrats objected or why.
Abortion-rights groups strongly oppose the bill. The NARAL Pro Choice America Web site says it is “deceptive” and “part of a larger anti-choice strategy to endow embryos and fetuses with legal protections and thus erode the foundations of legal abortion.”