Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The House is expected to pass fetal homicide legislation today, and Carol Lyons — whose pregnant daughter Ashley and unborn grandson Landon were slain last month — had a message for Senate opponents of the bill, such as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.

“Don’t tell me there is one victim. There were two,” Mrs. Lyons said yesterday, after speaking briefly at a Capitol Hill press conference. “[Ashleys] choice was to have that baby and her choice should be protected; that baby should be protected.”

Ashley’s father, Buford Lyons, said he watched the video ultrasound of Landon for the first time this week, and the fetus — about 21 weeks old during the Jan. 7 attack on Ashley — was moving his hands and lips.

“If they can sit there and tell me that that’s not a life, then I don’t know where their heart is,” Mr. Lyons said of the bill’s opponents.

The legislation before the House — which has passed the chamber twice — gives legal recognition of two victims when a pregnant woman and her fetus are harmed or killed. Specifically, the bill would make it a separate federal crime to hurt or kill a fetus at any stage of pregnancy during the commission of about 70 federal crimes against a pregnant woman. The bill explicitly would exempt legal abortion.

But opponents say the measure would undermine abortion rights by recognizing a fetus as a person, with legal rights separate from its mother.

“[L]egislation granting a fetus the same legal status in all stages of development as a human being is not the appropriate response,” read an e-mail from Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to one of his constituents in June.

Mr. Kerry said he opposes the bill because “the law cannot simultaneously provide that a fetus is a human being and protect the right of the mother to choose to terminate her pregnancy.”

Congressional Democrats previously have pushed an alternative proposal, which would enhance penalties for crimes against a pregnant woman, without recognizing the fetus as a separate victim.

The House also will consider the “one-victim” alternative today, but it never has been approved.

In the Senate, however, the outcome of such a vote is unknown because senators never have had to vote on either the bill or the one-victim legislation. Some Democrats, including Mr. Kerry, have indicated that they would support a one-victim alternative.

But the Lyons family and Sharon Rocha — mother of California murder victim Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner — have been pressuring senators to reject the one-victim alternative and support the bill. They note that 29 states have laws recognizing the unborn as homicide victims in crimes, and those laws haven’t affected abortion rights.

Kentucky had no fetal homicide law at the time of the Lyons murder, but in light of public attention and the outcry from the family, the state passed a law in January.

House Republican leaders said senators are feeling the same pressure because of public support for fetal homicide legislation in light of the Lyons case, as well as the high-profile trial of Scott Peterson, accused of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. Polls show that a majority of the public support recognition of two victims in crimes against pregnant women.

President Bush strongly supports the bill, and the administration issued a statement yesterday calling for its “prompt enactment” and rejecting the one-victim alternative.

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