Getting away with murder

Maggie Gallagher
Posted: Apr 19, 2001 12:00 AM
When a felon attacks a pregnant woman and kills or injures her unborn baby, has he hurt one victim or two?

For too many women, this is not a theoretical question. On the night of Aug. 26, 1999, for example, one day before her baby's due date, Shiwona Pace was assaulted by three masked men. "I begged and pleaded for the life of my unborn child but they showed me no mercy," she testified before Congress. She was choked, hit with a gun, slapped, punched and kicked repeatedly in the stomach by assailants who turned out to have been hired by her baby's father. Shiwona came to Washington, D.C., to plead for national legal recognition of the crime against her baby. "I lost a part of me -- a child that I was so looking forward to having. My son lost the baby sister that he'd always wanted."

On April 25, the House of Representatives will choose between two versions of HR 503, The Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Critics of the current bill, led by Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., are expected to offer a watered-down version that would not recognize the babies' loss, but only enhance penalties when an assault terminates a pregnancy. Pro-abortion forces are willing to do anything to defeat the full, unadulterated version, even though the bill specifically exempts legal abortions and any actions of the pregnant woman herself. Foes claim it indirectly threatens Roe v. Wade.

Hogwash. Roe v. Wade may give to every pregnant woman the right to choose whether or not her fetus is a human being, but it does not therefore give to every felon a similar right to choose.

Will a law recognizing only one victim do justice? Listen to Tracy Scheide's story before you decide. "I was nine months pregnant, due in just four days, when my own husband, the father of my unborn son, brutally beat me in such a manner that no unborn child could live," she testified. For Tracy, a "penalty enhancer" was not enough: "It does not treat the child as a separate victim."

She had a question for legislators, one that still applies: "Could you live with yourself knowing you passed this off as just a few more years in prison for some bully instead of what the charge should really be ... murder?"

Michael Lenz's wife, Carrie, was one of the 168 officially recorded victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. The night before the bombing, Michael and Carrie had called loved ones to share the news that they were having a baby boy, Michael James Lenz III. The next morning, his wife and child were killed. Lenz asks us for justice for his son as well as his wife: "Should we as people allow that act of violence to remain a victimless crime? No Michael the Third ever mentioned?" he asked Congress. "I don't think that would be right."

One victim or two? The answer is not that hard. Even the criminals agree. After all, when three thugs attacked Shiwona that night, they did not say, "Excuse me, we plan to interrupt your pregnancy." Instead, one of them told her as she pleaded, "F--- you. Your baby is dying tonight."

Survivors' pleas confirm what common sense suggests: When a man attacks a pregnant woman and kills or injures both her and her unborn child, there really are two victims crying out for justice. How can the law perpetuate the callousness of the criminals, or the pain of the survivors and their families in such cases, by refusing to name and prosecute the crimes against both?

Or as Tracy Scheide put it: "Zachariah Nathaniel. My son. Remember his name and face when you decide."