A tally of 26 murder victims that includes “space for one more”–an unborn child

By Dave Andrusko

The headline on the online version of a story that appeared in today’s New York Times— “Why the Tally of the Church Shooting’s Victims Included a Fetus”–was the prelude to a fascinating article by Laurie Goodstein and an even more remarkable series of reader responses.

By the way the more feeling, humane headline on the print edition reads, ”A Mass Shooting, a Tally of 26 Victims, and in Texas, a Space for One More.”

The “church shooting” is a reference to the maniacal shooting spree that took place at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sheriffs found the bodies of 22 of the victims in the church “but by their reasoning,” Goodstein writes, “one more victim died there — inside the womb of Crystal Holcombe, who was killed in the pews along with three of her five children.”

A little later Ms. Goodstein gives us a picture of the full horror:

Ms. Holcombe was one of eight members of the Holcombe family who died in the rampage, including her mother-in-law and father-in-law, a brother-in-law and a niece. The baby she was expecting raises the count to nine. Her husband, John Holcombe, was struck by shrapnel but survived.

Her story was not primarily about the slaughter but about fetal homicide laws, variations of which are on the books in 38 states. Goodstein quite correctly reminds her readers that the federal law recognizing unborn children as second victims passed in 2004 after a five year battle.

The federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act “gained momentum after the killing in California of Laci Peterson, who was eight months pregnant. Her husband, Scott Peterson, was convicted in 2004 of two counts of murder, one for his wife and one for the unborn child she was carrying.”

The law came to be known as “Laci and Connor’s law,” for Laci and her unborn son, Connor.

Unfortunately Goodstein reduces fetal homicide laws to just “another battle front in the long, passionate political war over abortion and the question of when life begins.”

“When life begins?” Was the beginning of Connor‘s life in dispute?

Pro-abortion Carol Sanger, professor at Columbia Law School, is trotted out to worry “that the campaign to define life as starting at conception was nonetheless making headway in government and elsewhere,” Goodstein writes. “A new strategic plan proposed for the Department of Health and Human Services says the department will serve and protect ‘Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.’”

Goodstein ends her story with another heartless lament from Sanger:

The memorial at the World Trade Center in New York, Professor Sanger noted, includes the words “and her unborn child” after the names of 10 pregnant women who died in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, and one who died in the 1993 attack at the center.

It is part of a broader effort, she said, “to acculturate us, to get us used to thinking about prenatal life as being like a born person.”

As I mentioned at the beginning, that comment and others drew strong responses. For example

JKR
NY
For everyone clamoring on about how this is only about controlling women’s bodies, can you pause for a second and imagine the loss that that woman’s family feels not just for her, but for the life she was carrying? I’m a liberal woman, I get the arguments for choice, and I even agree with many of them. …

Const
NY
First, I fully support a women’s right to choose. Second, the minute I found out I was pregnant, I was carrying my child, not a clump of cells regardless of the legal or medical definition.

Kentucky Female Doc
KY
With all respect, Dr. Sanger has completely missed the mark. She makes it sound as though identifying pregnant women who died during 9/11 is part of an insidious plot to “acculturate” the public, presumably to take away abortion rights. In reality, there is no plot. We identify the fetus, the baby, in pregnant women’s deaths because it is especially tragic. …

I am so glad the sheriff’s recognized the reality that there was another death that day– Crystal Holcombe’s unborn child.