The Logic of ‘Laci and Conner’s Law’ is Undeniable

Scott Peterson’s latest attempt to have his conviction for the 2002 double murder of his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son, Conner, overturned have put those heinous crimes back in the headlines. And heinous they were. So heinous in fact that they shocked Congress into a rare exercise of common sense.

Twenty years ago this month, President George W. Bush signed into law the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, better known as “Laci and Conner’s Law.” Passed by bipartisan majorities in both Houses of Congress, the Act conferred federal recognition upon a obvious truth—that unborn children exist and are capable of being murdered. As such, the Act protects unborn children from acts of violence and makes individuals who harm or kill an unborn child subject to charges separate from any additional offense committed against the unborn child’s mother.

Thirty-eight states have also conformed their criminal codes to account for crimes against the unborn. It was under California’s fetal homicide law that Peterson was charged and convicted for killing his unborn son. But not everyone supported Laci and Conner’s Law.

The abortion industry vehemently opposed it, and for good reason. Even though, to comply with then-prevailing Supreme Court precedent, the Act excluded unborn children killed via abortion from its protective scope America’s abortionists understood that Laci and Conner’s Law conferred personhood upon unborn children. And since the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all persons equal protection under the law, personhood for the unborn in any context is problematic for the pro-abortion ethos.

Now that Roe v. Wade has been relegated to the ash heap of history, the logic of Laci and Conner’s Law cannot be escaped. The Act defines an unborn child as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.” Remarking on the Peterson case, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), the Act’s primary Senate sponsor, said “The fact is there are two victims—it’s a fiction to say there aren’t.” At the White House signing ceremony, President Bush, in the presence of families victimized by crimes against pregnant women and unborn children, declared that “Any time an expectant mother is a victim of violence, two lives are in the balance, each deserving protection, and each deserving justice.”

The statements in opposition to Laci and Conner’s Law contained more candor than abortion proponents have offered before or since. “The law cannot simultaneously provide that a fetus is a human being and protect the right of the mother to choose to terminate her pregnancy,” reasoned Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the 2004 Democratic Party presidential nominee. Stating the obvious, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) observed that an “important premise behind the constitutional right to seek an abortion [is that] prenatal entities are not persons.”

But persons they are. Among other things with which deniers must contend, are the 10 unborn children listed on the 9/11 Memorial and the grave of Paul Richard Polanski, killed in utero by the Manson family. But most of all, they must contend with the logic of Laci and Conner’s Law.

The antebellum antecedents to the debate over unborn children are readily apparent. These antecedents were made explicit last year when a Virginia court applied an 1849 slave law to human embryos. If, 160 years after the Civil War, human life can still be legally treated as chattel, then Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg went unheeded. Those men did die in vain.

A legal system divided against itself cannot stand. Equal protection under the law cannot logically be premised on whether or not one is “wanted” by his or her mother. A society that treats the death of Conner Peterson at the hands of his father as an unspeakable crime but would have licensed his death at the hands of his mother will eventually be forced to confront its own incoherence. The manner of that confrontation is unknown, but make no mistake, a reckoning is beckoning.

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