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Abortion, Murder and the Law

If 'fetal homicide' can be cited in the Scott Peterson case, what about the killing of the unborn in other instances?

April 25, 2003|Walter L. Larimore | Walter L. Larimore is a family physician who hosts radio and TV's "Focus on Your Family's Health." He is vice president of medical outreach at Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs-based organization that promotes Christianity and traditional values.

Scott Peterson was arrested this week for double murder -- charged not only with killing his pregnant wife and dumping her body in the San Francisco Bay but also with causing the death of his unborn son.

Under California law, Peterson now faces the death penalty for the two murders. But some in the pro-abortion movement think it's not fair.

"There's something about this that bothers me a little bit," said the president of a New Jersey local of the National Organization for Women. "If it was unborn, then I can't see charging him with a murder.... It sets a kind of precedent."

At least her logic is consistent with her political philosophy. It is as if she has concluded that the unborn child's killer should not be brought to justice for murder -- because to do so might weaken her argument that fetuses are not people.

That's outrageous and it's cynical.

Peterson should be tried and punished for both murders.

At least 27 states, including California, have adopted "fetal homicide" statutes ensuring that when a pregnant woman's unborn child is killed, prosecutors can seek a murder charge. For the purposes of California's law, an unborn child is defined as human after eight weeks' gestation.

But there is some irrationality to the law. For one thing, the unborn child is considered human only if the mother is killed. If, on the other hand, the mother desires that the unborn child be killed by abortion near the end of pregnancy, then that unborn child is no longer human.

In California, Peterson can be charged with killing an 8-week-old fetus, but it is nevertheless perfectly legal to perform a late-term abortion -- called "dilation and extraction" -- in which a physician dilates the opening to the womb, ruptures the amniotic sac and reaches in and turns the baby, which is dragged out feet first. Then, with only the child's head left in the womb, and with absolutely no anesthesia for the small child, a sharp instrument is driven into the base of the baby's skull and the brain sucked out.

I've been contemplating a thorny question: What if Laci Peterson had not been killed that day, but instead had undergone a late-term abortion? Why wouldn't the abortionist be charged with murder just like Scott Peterson?

Is the unborn baby a murder victim, or isn't it?

In essence and in outcome, aren't late-term abortions and fetal homicides the same thing -- at least as far as the unborn child is concerned? Truth be told, the only difference is the intent of the mother. If the mother deems the unborn child worthless -- even if just moments or days before birth -- then it is.

And if this is true, then why shouldn't parents who deem their children worthless up to, say, 1 or 2 years of age be able to end those lives if they are not wanted? The answer to the question seems clear to me. The legal protection of life should not depend on the fancy and fickleness of those to whom it is entrusted. Ultrasound and new medical procedures helping to save premature babies have taught us that unborn children are indeed children.

The fate of Scott Peterson will be decided by the court. But the fate of millions of unborn children rests with us. As tragic and horrible as the Peterson case may be, it may just help us as a society to decide that children, even unborn children, are of infinite worth.

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