By Dave Andrusko
The Associated Press ran a story today that on Thursday Scott Peterson filed an automatic appeal of his 2004 sentence for the murders of his wife, Laci and her unborn son, Connor. Peterson was convicted under long-standing California state law that preceded Roe v. Wade, and he is appealing his death sentence to state courts. (National Right to Life takes no position on the death penalty or the sentence itself.)
The two murders for which Peterson was convicted were so horrific I will not recapitulate them except to say that the nation’s attention was riveted on the trial. The details about how Laci and Connor were murdered were so ghastly that, although the case had nothing to do with federal law, their deaths helped raised the nation’s consciousness about the whole issue of the murder of pregnant women, specifically that there IS a “second victim”—something NRLC had been pursuing at the federal level.
It is no coincidence that the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act” (UVVA) is also known as “Laci and Connor’s law.” Their tragedy drew attention to the underlying issue and helped NRLC pass into law the UVVA , which established the “two-victim principle” for federal law purposes as well.
The reach of the law itself was relatively modest. “Laci and Connor’s law” recognizes unborn children as victims when they are injured or killed during the commission of federal or military crimes of violence. The federal bill did not alter or conflict with any law of any state. But it surely is no accident that a number of states subsequently passed their own laws.
Even though the legislation had nothing to do with abortion, that didn’t prevent pro-abortion Democrats from fighting the Unborn Victims of Violence Act tooth and nail.
Indeed when President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on April 6, 2004, it capped a five-year campaign by National Right to Life. The outcome could not have been much more dramatic. One week before the bill survived a showdown in the U.S. Senate by a single vote – 49-50. Pro-abortion Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who by that time was assumed to his party’s presidential nominee, interrupted his campaigning to make a rare visit to the Senate to vote AGAINST the bill.
I’d like to quote extensively from a release that NRLC put out the day President Bush signed the “Laci and Connor’s Law” to give you context and a feel for the emotions that swirled that incredible day.
President Bush signed the bill at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, in the company of seven women and men who had lost loved ones, born and unborn, in violent crimes. Among them were Sharon Rocha and Ron Grantski, the mother and stepfather of Laci Peterson.
The enormous media attention given to the murder of Laci and Conner in December, 2002, and to subsequent judicial proceedings, helped to boost the bill, especially after the family asked lawmakers to give the legislation the alternative title of “Laci and Conner’s Law” almost a year ago.
In remarks before signing the bill, the President said, “As these and the other families understand, any time an expectant mother is a victim of violence, two lives are in the balance, each deserving protection, and each deserving justice. If the crime is murder and the unborn child’s life ends, justice demands a full accounting under the law.”
The signing event was attended by many supporters of the bill, including members of the NRLC board of directors and staff.
Leading congressional supporters were also present, including House prime sponsor Congresswoman Melissa Hart (R-Pa.), Senate prime sponsor Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tn.), Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tx.), and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), all of whom played key roles in advancing the legislation.
Also present was Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who first introduced the legislation in 1999, when he was a member of the House of Representatives. NRLC advised on the drafting of the legislation, and has coordinated the coalition that worked for its enactment over the past five years.
Throughout that period, the bill was vigorously opposed by pro-abortion advocacy groups such as the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. These groups have asserted that crimes like the killing of Laci and Conner Peterson have only a single victim. They also say that the new law conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings that dictate legal abortion, although the bill specifically exempts abortion.
President Bush was joined on the stage by six women and men who had lost both their daughters and their unborn grandchildren in violent crimes: Rocha and Grantski; Carol and Buford Lyons (victims Ashley and Landon); Cynthia Warner (victims Heather Fliegelman and Jonah); and Stephanie Alberts (victims Christina and Ashley Nichole). Also present was Tracy Marciniak Seavers, who survived an assault that killed her unborn son, Zachariah.
Prior to the public ceremony, the family members met privately with the President. Several shared with him powerful photographs of their lost loved ones — photos that also were displayed on the floor of the Senate during the debate on March 25.
At the ceremony, they stood immediately behind the president, some with tears in their eyes, as he spoke and then signed the bill.
Both the tragic case and the passage of the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act were spurs to passage of state laws. Currently 36 states have laws that recognize the unlawful killing of an unborn child as homicide in at least some circumstances. That can be seen at http://nrlc.org/Unborn_Victims/Statehomicidelaws092302.html