Peterson case raises questions about the unborn

Maggie Gallagher

4/24/2003 12:00:00 AM - Maggie Gallagher
In the Laci Peterson murder case, the National Organization for Women is beating a hasty retreat. Over the weekend, Mavra Stark, head of the Morris County, N.J., chapter of NOW, publicly objected to the double-murder charge filed in this case: "Was it born, or was it unborn? If it was unborn, then I can't see charging (Peterson) with a double murder," she told the Daily Record there.

A few days later, the Daily Record is reporting that Mavra Stark has retracted her objections after getting a call from a national NOW vice president. Washington NOW spokesman Rebecca Farmer refused to say whether NOW opposes fetal homicide statutes that have been passed in at least 23 states. Stark told the Daily Record that NOW "felt it wasn't the right thing to take a position right now."

When a man brutally murders the mother of his unborn child and his baby, the blood of the innocent cries out too powerfully to be swept under partisan rugs. Even California's notoriously liberal state supreme court confirmed in 1994 that a defendant can be charged with murdering a fetus regardless of whether the unborn child is old enough to survive outside the womb. In cases like these, even the most zealous ideologue hesitates to be philosophically consistent.

That's good. Sometimes basic human decency needs to overwhelm ideology. Sometimes, it is comforting to all of us to know that it still can.

But what exactly was it that washed ashore along with Laci Peterson's body last week? The officials who saw the human remains called it as they saw it: They found two separate bodies, a woman and a baby.

On April 17, Associated Press reported District Attorney James Brazelton told the media, "I feel pretty strongly it is (Peterson). It's too much of a coincidence to have a female and a baby found close to each other a day apart and no others were reported missing." And yet just two days later, AP was reporting that on "April 14: The body of a woman and a male fetus that washed ashore in Richmond, Calif., are found." Other press accounts followed a similar path. The body of a baby they reported found suddenly became universally described as a dead fetus.

A fetus. There is something odd about this terminology in itself, now so widely used, thanks to pro-abortion bias in the press. It is so clinical, so technical. As if when police say they find a body of a woman, Associated Press feels obliged to say they found an adult female homo sapiens floating dead in the water.

But in this case there is something especially odd. A fetus. How did they know, these reporters and editors? The answer of course is that they did not know. The poor dead infant body that was found was not found inside the woman's body.

Reporters and editors who initially dubbed it a fetus were not reporting the news, but jumping to conclusions. If it is Laci Peterson's baby, it must be called a fetus, never a baby. Otherwise people might get confused.

Late-term abortions are less than 2 percent of all abortions, but they are not rare; they are shockingly common: Each year in America, people with medical licenses kill more than 10,000 human young roughly the same age as Laci Peterson's child, with the capacity to survive outside the mother's womb.

It is good to know that sometimes, common human decency can overwhelm ideology. And disturbing to think how often it does not.