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Protecting the Unborn: A Step-By-Step Approach

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Saddleback taught us an important lesson: presumptive Republican nominee John McCain says he knows when life begins. Democratic Presidential heir apparent Barack Obama does not.

But Obama’s agnosticism on the question of the beginning of life is actually nothing knew. In 1973, in the era before 4-D ultrasounds made their way into the lives of ordinary American couples, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to specify when life began in the historic case known as Roe v. Wade. In fact, when read with its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, Roe allowed for abortion to take place during all nine-months of pregnancy. That’s why abortionists were able to get away with the heinous practice of partial-birth abortion.

Nevertheless, the High Court has allowed for certain restrictions on abortion: parental consent, 24-hour waiting periods, requirements that women be told of the risks of abortion and alternatives to it. The Freedom of Choice Act, which Obama has co-sponsored, would wipe out such restrictions, leading to an even more permissive policy where abortion is concerned.

I would like to make the case that if unborn life were strictly defined in the law, our courts would be required to protect, rather than devalue, unborn children. That’s why I recommend passing state laws which would categorize the unlawful killing of unborn babies as murder. After that, legal protection could be extended to unborn boys and girls whose lives are snuffed out in abortion facilities.

There is something of a legal precedent for this. A few years back, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as Laci and Conner’s Law. Under this landmark legislation, anyone who attacks a pregnant mother and “intentionally kills or attempts to kill the unborn child…shall be punished…for intentionally killing or attempting to kill a human being.”

While this was an important step forward, this 2004 law applies only to federal cases or those who commit such a crime in the course of violating a federal law. Since most crimes are matters of state law, similar legislation needs to be passed at the state level. Fortunately, a number of states have already done this—the unlawful killing of unborn babies is classified as homicide in 36 states.

However, in other states, while injury to a pregnant woman may be a crime, the killing of unborn children is not considered a separate offense. The tragedy of such a schizophrenic policy has become painfully obvious in North Carolina. There, Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach, a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune, was viciously assaulted and killed while pregnant. Since there are no laws in North Carolina which equate the killing of a fetus to murder, authorities have brought no charges with regard to the death of Lauterbach’s unborn child.

In order to win full legal protection for the unborn, we need broad consensus. Such consensus already exists with regard to fetal homicide laws. The laws have been passed in three dozen states—and not one has been successfully challenged in court. In this context, fetal homicide laws could open the door to other laws that would provide protection to unborn children.

As Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life, has stated, “It seems (abortion advocates’) greatest fear is not of what the (fetal homicide) bill actually does legally, but of how it might encourage people to think about the unborn child.”

Conner Peterson, Laci Peterson’s unborn son, became a person in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the American people through the passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. No matter how abortion advocates might try to re-frame the debate, Conner passed through the prism of public consciousness to become more than just a “blob of tissue.” He had a name—therefore, he had existed, and his young life had been brought to a tragic end. And the law justly recognizes that fact.

This is how the fight against abortion must be waged: one step at a time. Incrementalism can try our patience, but it can also be quite effective. As the fight against slavery was fought in stages, so too the battle for civil rights protection for unborn children must be played out on one front at a time.

Once feticide has been outlawed throughout the U.S., pro-life advocates can move onto the next step. Each small victory wins more respect for unborn children, and hastens the day when they finally will be accorded equal rights under the law.

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