To go to the main section on Unborn Victims of
Violence (fetal homicide), click here
Ashley Lyons, age 18, and her unborn son Landon were murdered
in Scott County, Kentucky, on January 7, 2004. In the eyes of
Kentucky law, the crime had a single victim.
To go to the main section on Unborn Victims of Violence (fetal homicide), click here
Ashley Lyons, age 18, and her unborn son Landon were murdered in Scott County, Kentucky, on January 7, 2004. In the eyes of Kentucky law, the crime had a single victim.
Unborn Victims of Violence:
February 5, 2004
Some pro-abortion leaders, like Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt, and some United States senators, like John Kerry of Massachusetts, believe that there are no unborn victims of violence.
Carol Lyons of Scott County, Kentucky, knows better. Her 18-year-old daughter, Ashley, and her unborn grandson, Landon, died together at the hands of a murderer on January 7.
"Nobody can tell me that there were not two victims -- I placed Landon in his mother's arms, wrapped in a baby blanket that I had sewn for him, just before I kissed my daughter goodbye for the last time and closed the casket," Mrs. Lyons said.
When Ashley learned she was pregnant last September, she was excited about becoming a mother. Immediately, she began writing a private journal to her unborn baby. Early on, she wrote that she could not consider abortion.
"You are the child I have always dreamed about," she wrote in October. "I know that it will be a long time before I meet you but I can't wait to hold you for the first time. I love you more everyday. Always, Mommy."
On January 7, Ashley's doctor gave her an ultrasound video of her baby, and she learned he was a boy. Ashley named him Landon. She couldn't wait to show the video to her mother, father Buford, and brother Chris.
"She said, 'Mom, come watch the ultrasound movie,'" Mrs. Lyons later related. "I saw the baby's heartbeat. I saw all of his little parts -- all of his little legs, fingers, toes. . . . She pointed out every part of that baby to me. And the whole time the baby's heart was just beating."
In the ultrasound, Landon was at about 21 weeks, meaning that his lungs were just two or three weeks short of so-called "viability," the point at which, if delivered prematurely, he would probably have survived long term.
But only hours after the family viewed the ultrasound video, Buford Lyons found his daughter in her car, shot to death. His unborn grandson was also dead.
The murderer has not yet been arrested. But when the killer is apprehended, only a single homicide charge will be filed.
In the eyes of Kentucky law, Landon never existed.
Carol and Buford Lyons have appealed to the Kentucky legislature to enact a fetal homicide bill, so that in the future, grieving family members in Kentucky will never again be told that a slain unborn child was not a legal victim.
"When we find her killer, we can't prosecute him for Landon," Carol Lyons told a state senate committee on January 15. "But Landon was alive. She [Ashley] wrote to him. She sang to him. She said, 'Momma, what was my favorite lullaby?' She was so excited over this child."
(To view the video of this compelling testimony on your computer, click HERE and click through to the Kentucky state Senate Judiciary Committee hearing of January 15.)
(On February 12, 2004, The Montel Williams Show, a nationally televised program, will feature a taped interview with Carol Lyons and state Rep. Stan Lee, author of one of the Kentucky fetal homicide bills.)
For about 18 years, Kentucky Right to Life, the state NRLC affiliate, had been urging the legislature to adopt fetal homicide bills -- but all such bills had been blocked, in large part because of objections from the ACLU and other groups that believe a crime like the Lyons killing involves one victim, not two.
This year, however, following the Lyons' appeal, and at the urging of newly elected pro-life Governor Ernie Fletcher (R), both houses have passed comprehensive fetal homicide bills -- the Senate on January 22, 31-6, and the House on January 30, 88-5.
"After almost two decades of lobbying, we are now close to getting a law that will allow justice to be served for future unborn victims of homicide like Landon Lyons," said Margie Montgomery, executive director of the Kentucky Right to Life Association, on February 5. "We hope that the bill will reach Governor Fletcher soon, and when he signs it, it will take effect immediately."
When that happens, it means that Kentucky will join 28 other states that already recognize unborn children as victims of violent crimes. In 15 of these states, that recognition applies throughout pre-natal development, while 13 apply coverage at some defined point in pre-natal development.
(For a summary of the 28 state fetal homicide laws, click here.)
Unborn victims bills are currently under consideration in at least nine states besides Kentucky.
"It's a big deal, and it's becoming a bigger deal," Allison Cook of the National Conference of State Legislatures told the Lexington Herald-Leader (January 30).
This surge in activity grows, in part, of the great public interest in the approaching trial of Scott Peterson, who is charged in California with the murder of his wife Laci and their unborn son Conner. Sharon Rocha, the mother of Laci and grandmother of Conner, has emerged as a forceful advocate for fetal homicide legislation. A late January Gallup poll found that 57% of Americans are following the case closely.
Will the Senate Act?
Soon, the U.S. Senate will consider ‑‑ for the first time ever -- whether when a criminal injures or kills an unborn child while committing a federal or military crime against the mother, a second charge should be brought on behalf of the unborn victim.
President Bush says that he thinks such crimes have two victims, and he has repeatedly called for action on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (S. 1019, H.R. 1997), sponsored by Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.).
In his delivered by phone to the March for Life in Washington, the President said, "I strongly support the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which the House Judiciary Committee approved yesterday. And now the entire Congress should act on this bill so I can sign it into law."
The House of Representatives passed the bill in 1999 and 2001, but it has never reached the floor in the Senate, due entirely to objections from pro-abortion advocacy groups, including NARAL, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU, and like-minded groups.
Soon, however, Republican leaders in both houses are expected to schedule votes on the bill. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tn.) has given indications that his patience is nearly exhausted with the back-room obstructionist tactics by which a group of Senate Democrats that have kept the bill off the floor for many months -- notwithstanding public statements by Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, starting last summer, that the issue should be considered "expeditiously." (See "Senate Democrats Stall UVVA," August NRL News, page 1.)
"If Democratic senators want to filibuster Laci and Conner's Law, they will have to do so in the open, and then try to explain that to their constituents," one Senate Republican leadership aide said in early January.
Under current federal and military law, there are no unborn victims. This gap in federal law is illustrated by the fact that the three unborn children killed in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City do not appear on the official federal list of victims, but the State of Oklahoma is prosecuting Terry Nichols for killing Amber Denise Huff, an unborn child who died with her mother, Robbin Ann, and many others in the blast.
Thus, if a pregnant woman survives being attacked on a military base or within some other federal jurisdiction, but loses her baby, it is treated as a battery or other lesser crime, not the taking of a human life. Interstate stalkers, terrorist bombers, and those who kill as part of major drug offenses are subject to federal prosecution -- but as of today, no charges may be brought on behalf of the unborn victims of these criminals.
Under the bill, all that would change. If a pregnant woman is a victim of any of 68 federal crimes, and her unborn child is injured or killed, the bill would allow the prosecutor to bring a second charge on behalf of the second victim. The penalty would depend on which federal crime was committed, the degree of harm done, and on the type of criminal intent involved. In some cases a life sentence could be imposed, but the federal bill specifically excludes the death penalty.
Abortion Not the Issue
The bill would apply to a "child in utero," defined as "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb." When quoting this definition, critics of the bill usually fail to quote the "carried in the womb" phrase, which excludes any application of the bill to embryos in the laboratory or prior to the point of a provably established pregnancy.
The bill explicitly excludes abortions for which lawful consent has been given, or any action by a woman that results in harm to the unborn child whom she carries.
Despite the exclusion of abortion, opposing groups insist that it must "really" be aimed at abortion -- why else would groups like Right to Life support such legislation, they ask? But, although many journalists disregard it, we call ourselves "Right to Life," not "anti-abortion."
NRLC supports fetal homicide bills because we recognize that abortion, while a critical issue, is not the only pro-life issue. Landon Lyons, Conner Peterson. Amber Denise Huff, and many other have been absolutely deprived of their right to life through acts that were not abortions. A law that allows true justice to be done on behalf of such innocent victims, and that hopefully deters such crimes in the future, is a worthwhile law in its own right.
The issue also differs from abortion in that there are no court-created obstacles to protecting unborn children from violent crimes. Indeed, federal and state courts have rejected over a dozen legal challenges to state fetal homicide laws.
The only obstacles to such laws are political obstacles, engendered by the pro-abortion advocacy groups and their insistence that the law, in every area, must be blind to the existence of members of the human family prior to complete live birth.
In the rigid ideological construct of these groups, crimes like the Peterson murder and the Lyons murder have only a single victim ‑‑ the pregnant woman.
One Victim, or Two?
This is, indeed, the heart of the matter -- one victim, or two?
When veteran interviewer Warren Olney of KCRW-FM (a Los Angeles NPR affiliate) politely insisted that Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, squarely answer whether the Peterson crime involved one victim or two, Feldt replied pointedly that Laci was the victim."
Asked essentially the same question in January on a radio program in Lynchburg, the head of the Virginia ACLU, Kent Willis, replied, "That baby was not a murder victim."
(However, the state of California disagrees, and has charged Scott Peterson with two homicides, utilizing a fetal homicide law enacted in 1970 and repeatedly upheld by the California Supreme Court.)
One victim, or two? In Arkansas in 1999, Shiwona Pace, just one day short of her predicted delivery date, was brutally attacked by three men. They had been paid $400 by her former boyfriend specifically to kill her unborn baby, who was named Heaven Lashay. The thugs knocked Shiwona to the ground, stuck a gun in her mouth, and, as she pleaded for them to stop, kicked her again and again in the abdomen.
"As they beat me, one said, "Your baby is dying tonight," Shiwona Pace said later.
Fortunately for those interested in justice, the Arkansas fetal homicide law had gone into effect just a month earlier (over the usual objections) -- so the three attackers, and the man who hired them, were all convicted of first-degree murder.
In 2001, commenting on the resistance by certain lawmakers to enactment of the federal bill, Shiwona Pace observed that they were "really saying that nobody died that night. And that is a lie."
Three national opinion polls in 2003 found truly overwhelming public support for laws authorizing a separate homicide charge to be filed on behalf of a murdered unborn child.
A May 2003 Newsweek poll found that 84% of Americans believe that an offender should be charged "for two murders instead of one," including 56% who believe this should apply "in all cases where a pregnant woman is murdered" and another 28% "where the fetus is viable ‑‑ that is, is able to survive outside the womb." Only 9% were opposed to any charge for fetal murder.
A July 2003 Opinion Dynamics/Fox News poll asked, "If a violent physical attack on a pregnant woman leads to the death of her unborn child, do you think prosecutors should be able to charge the attacker with murder for killing the fetus?" 79% replied in the affirmative -‑ including 69% of those who labeled themselves as "pro‑choice."
In all three polls, only 7 to 10% supported the position that the law must never view the unborn child as a legal victim -- which is the position that PPFA, NARAL, and the ACLU are pressing on lawmakers.
Members of Congress allied with these groups have put forward a counter-proposal, usually referred to as the "single‑victim substitute," sponsored by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Ca.) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.). This legislation would sharply increase penalties for any federal crime in which the victim happens to be pregnant, if "interruption" of the pregnancy results. It would also codify the doctrine that such crimes have only a single victim.
The theory behind the proposal is that the pregnant woman suffers an additional harm if she loses her "pregnancy," and that this warrants more severe punishment. This proposal is legally incoherent. Even when the mother survives, the substitute would allow a life sentence if an attack causes a miscarriage or even a premature live birth -- yet the sponsors insist that in that circumstance, there has been no loss of human life. Why a life sentence, if nobody died? On the other hand, if the mother herself dies in the crime, how then can she be said to have suffered an additional injury?
And what about the cases in which the baby survives, but is born with disabilities resulting from the crime? No matter -- there is still just one victim, the mother, under the Lofgren-Feinstein proposal.
John Kerry's Position
In letters to constituents, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has come out against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act , while saying he would support increasing sentences for crimes against pregnant women.
In a letter, Sharon Rocha urged him to reconsider , writing that "adoption of such a single‑victim proposal would be a painful blow to those, like me, who are left to grieve after a two‑victim crime, because Congress would be saying that Conner and other innocent victims like him are not really victims ‑‑ indeed, that they never really existed at all. But 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."
Regarding Kerry's support for more severe penalties, Rocha concluded, "This is a question not only of severity, but of justice. . . . If this single-victim bill were the law in California, there would be no second homicide charge for the murder of Conner. But there were two bodies that washed up in San Francisco Bay, and the law should recognize that reality."
Equally compelling was testimony given on June 8, 2003, before the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee, by Tracy Marciniak of Wisconsin, who described the brutal attack in the ninth month of her pregnancy that killed her unborn son Zachariah.
She showed the panel a powerfully moving photograph, taken at Zachariah's funeral, holding her baby for the last time -- a photo that in a sense distills the entire debate over fetal homicide legislation
Referring to the single-victim substitute, Marciniak testified, "If you vote for that bill . . . you would be saying to all of the future mothers, fathers, and grandparents, who lose their unborn children in future federal crimes, 'You didn't really lose a baby.' . . . Please don't tell me that my son was not a real murder victim. If you really think that nobody died that night, if you really think there is no dead baby in the picture, then vote for the Lofgren bill. But please remember Zachariah's name and face when you decide."
When the time comes for each U.S. senator, each U.S. representative, each state legislator to vote on whether the law will recognize unborn victims of violence, let us hope that he or she will be mindful of the pleas of Tracy Marciniak and of all of those who have lost unborn loved ones, such as Carol and Buford Lyons, Sharon Rocha, and Shiwona Pace.
Let us also hope that they remember the names of those who were slain before birth -- Zachariah, Conner, Amber, Heaven, Landon-- and cast their votes for justice.
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