In 1973, the US Supreme Court handed down their famous Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion. Since that day, members of the RRR have been trying to find a way to overturn Roe v Wade, but in the last several years they have begun to turn their attention to finding a way to get around the law. They seem to have succeeded, at least partially, by getting laws passed that grant the unborn fetus civil rights. Here, in simple terms, is how it works.

  • The radical religious right appeals to human emotions and outrage when a pregnant woman and her unborn viable fetus are killed during the commission of a crime. They use the pain and tears of those left behind— the husband, other children, parents, siblings, friends— to foster that sense of outrage.
  • They ask how anyone with an ounce of compassion could not want the perpetrator punished. They then offer for your consideration legislation that would allow someone to be charged with murder/homicide if a viable fetus is killed during the commission of or as the result of a crime.
  • They then ask you to call your elected representatives and demand that they pass this law so that these "animals" are properly punished.
  • The elected representatives say "Hey, I better do this if I want to get re-elected" and vote in favor of the law.
  • The law passes and the unborn have been given legal recognition as "living human beings" that are entitled to at least some protections of the law.
When someone like Scott Peterson comes along, when we hear day after day after day about baby Connor and we see Laci Peterson's pretty face plastered on the TV screen and newspapers and hear the horrific details of how she died, many of us say "It's a good thing we have laws like this!"

But it won't stop there. Already these laws (which have now been "codified" under a federal law enacted in January, 2004) have been misused and abused.

  • In 1999, just after Pennsylvania passed its Crimes Against the Unborn Child Act, two women got into a physical fight on a Pittsburgh street. Both women were in love with the same man. One, Pamela Council, was 9 weeks pregnant with his child. But he'd left her for the second woman, Angela Alston. During the altercation, Council claims Alston kicked her twice in the abdomen. Witnesses to the fight say Council threw the first blows and that Alston didn't kick her. Whichever story is true1, the fetus died and was removed by Council's doctor later that day. There is no way to determine when the fetus died: last doctor visit when a heartbeat was heard was nine days prior. There is no way to determine what was the cause of death. The coroners can speculate, but how do they take into account the chromosomal defect that the forensic pathologist found in the fetus? Alston was charged with homicide, aggravated assault and aggravated assault against an unborn child. All on the word of an obviously jealous ex-girlfriend and the speculation of a coroner on what killed a 9-week-old fetus. Hell, we can't even figure out what killed some full grow humans. Tell me that you're going to be able to conclusively determine that a 9-week-old fetus died as a result of abdominal trauma to the woman.
  • Again in Pennsylvania, in Westmoreland County (about 35 miles from Pittsburgh), a man was driving home after having a few beers. He broadsided a car carrying a 21-week pregnant woman as a passenger. Six weeks later, the woman went into labor and delivered a premature baby. Almost four weeks later, the baby boy died of intestinal problems and pneumonia attributed to his premature birth. A forensic pathologist testified that the trauma the mother suffered as the result of the crash caused her to go into premature labor. However, the mother admitted to smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day for the first fifteen weeks of the pregnancy as well as using cocaine the first six weeks. She was also a recovering crack addict and admitted (during a trial in which she sought a protection from abuse order) that she was hit and kicked while she was pregnant by the man with whom she was living.2 How in the world is any jury supposed to determine which of those factors killed that child? The effects of drugs and cigarettes on the developing fetus are well documented. She delivered her son at 27 weeks into the pregnancy. At that point in time, a baby delivered has an 80-90% chance of survival. Would her son have survived if she hadn't used drugs and smoked cigarettes? It's quite possible. But it's obvious that the accident itself did not cause the death of the child. I don't even see how it can be said, after six weeks, that the accident caused the premature delivery!
  • On May 15, 1999, Regina McKnight, 22, gave birth to a stillborn infant about eight and a half months into her third pregnancy. Ms. McKnight, whose IQ is said to be 72, is poor, black, had 2 other living children already, has never held a job and is a survivor of domestic violence. She was also, at that time, addicted to crack cocaine. An autopsy of the stillborn infant showed cocaine in the infant's system and Ms. McKnight admitted she had an addiction to crack. Ms. McKnight was quickly arrested and charged with "homicide by child abuse". Ms. McKnight lives in South Carolina, near the bottom of the list when talking about drug treatment programs, but it is near the top of the list when talking about prosecution of pregnant women for in utero child abuse.3
  • Just this past week, a judge in Illinois ruled that a frozen embryo that was accidentally discarded was "fully human" and that the "parents" may file a "wrongful death" civil case against the fertility clinic. Now the poor clerk has to wonder if the DA won't file charges of homicide since a court has rule that the embryo is fully human.
  • In January, 2005, Representative John Cosgrove of the Virginia State legislature, introduced a bill whose language made it a crime for a woman who had a miscarriage to NOT report it to the police if there were no medical personnel on hand at the time of the miscarriage. The law stated, "When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance, it shall be the woman's responsibility to report the death to the law-enforcement agency in the jurisdiction of which the delivery occurs within 12 hours after the delivery. A violation of this section shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor." Representative Cosgrove later said it was not his intent to force women who suffered spontaneous abortions (aka miscarriages) to report them to the police. However, one of the arguments used in support of a woman's right to choose is that in all the history of the government, they have always recognized that a fetus is not a human being— when a human being dies, a death certificate is issued.4
  • A bill has been introduced in both chambers of the the US Congress called The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act (H.R. 4420/S.2466) Essentially, it requires an abortion provider to inform any woman seeking an abortion after 20 weeks just how painful an abortion will be to the fetus and offer the woman the option of anesthetizing the fetus before performing the abortion. Most woman having abortions at 20 weeks (which is halfway through the pregnancy) do so because of medical reasons and don't really want to have an abortion but feel it is necessary. Or they're in denial that they're even pregnant to begin with. In either case, the last thing either one of them needs is to have guilt piled on them when in fact we don't know for certain what (if anything) a fetus might feel during an abortion. Recent studies challenge the "accepted" idea that a fetus begins to feel pain at the 20th week.
  • (04-23-06) Both South Dakota and Mississippi have passed laws that virtually ban all abortions. These laws are specifically designed to be challenged and taken to the US Supreme Court to force a review of Roe v Wade. Missouri has gone even further and banned state-funded health clinics from dispersing, discussing or even referring clients to other clinics for birth control. An article in USA Today shows in just how many states abortion might become illegal. Mind you, it's not the people who want to outlaw abortion. Polls show that the vast majority of Americans support a woman's right to choose. It is the politicians and the RRR that wants to make their minority, religiously based beliefs the law of the land.

If the abuses of the current laws scare you, then the next logical step with these laws will have you reeling.

Before we get into that, keep in mind that the current laws on "crimes against the unborn" are based on viability, which is the point at which, if born prematurely, the baby would have a good chance at survival. Yet it is clear that there is no real consensus on what is actually a "viable" fetus. In the case of Pam Council, her doctor declared her fetus viable at 9 weeks, yet there's no way that a 9 week old fetus would survive outside the womb, regardless of how extensive and intensive the life support efforts were. Thirty years ago, a baby born four weeks early was considered at risk. One born eight weeks early was in real danger. Now, an infant born at 24 weeks, which is 16 weeks premature, has a 40-70% chance of survival. By 27 weeks, still 13 weeks premature, that number is greater than 90%. With advances in science constantly improving our ability to keep premature babies alive, we'll eventually create an "artificial womb" and a fertilized egg will be viable from conception. Do you begin to see the problem with these laws?

Now to the next logical step. Two of them actually.

First, eventually someone is going to ask, "Why should the rights of the unborn be protected only when they're the victims of crimes? We hold others responsible for accidental deaths even if they're not criminally intent on killing someone. Why not protect the unborn that same way as well?"

That may sound reasonable, but think about this for a moment. Say you're at a shopping mall and you accidentally bump into a woman and knock her down. You apologize, ask her if she's okay, she says she's fine, you go home. A couple days or weeks later, the police knock on your door and arrest you for involuntary manslaughter: the woman you knocked down was pregnant and she miscarried the day after you knocked her down. Sound far fetched? Tell that to Angela Alston.

If you're pregnant, and you have an extra glass of wine at dinner, and the next day you miscarry, will you be arrested for in utero child abuse? Sound impossible? Ask Regina McKnight how impossible that is.

Second, it won't be long (and indeed has already started to happen) before someone on the RRR argues that if we give the unborn some rights of the born, why do they not have all rights of the born? After all, a child that is born has all the civil rights of a US citizen from the moment of birth (with the exception, perhaps, of the "right to vote", although there is much debate as to whether voting is a right or a privilege.) So now the unborn have all the rights of a living breathing human being.

Now add this to the viability factor and you can see the real danger. Women of child bearing age will become social pariahs: no one will want to be near one for fear that the police will turn up on their doorstep a couple weeks later and arrest them for manslaughter or murder of a fetus.

Sound far-fetched? Not as far-fetched as you might think. There are laws on the books in most states that say that the death of any child under a certain age must be investigated by the police or DA's office if the death is not due to a known illness. If a fetus is given equal rights as a born child, then the police will be forced to investigate EVERY SINGLE MISCARRIAGE as a possible crime. As someone who has experienced a miscarriage, let me tell you that the last thing I needed at that point in time was to be investigated for potentially killing what would have been my child.

I truly understand the outrage at seeing the potential life of the unborn snuffed out so close to birth. But there is no guarantee that Connor Peterson, for example, would have survived childbirth. Stillbirths do happen in apparently healthy pregnancies for reasons no one yet knows. And yet, despite all the uncertainty surrounding pregnancy and birth, despite all that we don't know, we're still convicting people and even sending them to death row. That's like walking into a minefield blindfolded on stilts so you can't even feel the lay of the land.

Many argue that the soul enters the body at conception. The problem with this argument is twofold: first, there's no proof that a soul exists. Second, it is a subjective belief that is beyond any sort of proof until and unless it is first proven a soul exists. If you believe that the soul enters the body at conception, or that abortions are wrong, then follow your belief and your heart and don't have one. But you have no right to impose your personal beliefs on another human who has the free will and right to follow what her heart tells her is right.

Those who are anti-choice5 will say that pro-choice people are imposing their personal beliefs on the unborn. Such a statement assumes two things. First, that the unborn IS a human being just like any other human being: ie, that is has a soul before birth. Which sends us back to the previous paragraph. And second, it assumes that the unborn have equal rights with the born. Right now, they have some of the same rights, but not all. I'd like to see all laws giving any rights to the unborn repealed instantly. And I rather wish that those people who put such time and effort into "protecting" the unborn would put just as much effort into protecting those children who are already born and living in poverty, in abusive homes, etc. I wonder how many of those anti-choice people would be willing to take in a child who has been traumatized by years of abuse. Or how many are willing to take in a crack-addicted baby. I'd like to see the RRR be truthful in their "Adoption is an Option" campaigns and add "if your baby is white and healthy and newborn".

Through all of this, I haven't touched on why this is such a volatile issue for the RRR. For the masses, those that donate their money and man the picket lines, I think it truly is a belief that life begins at conception. For the leaders, though, it's again about control. Remember Pat Robertson's "Ten Myths" and how he wanted to take us back to the 1950's? He's being quite literal, in my humble opinion. He wants to go back to a time when white, straight, Christian males ruled the world, women stayed home and took care of the man and the children, "barefoot and pregnant." The man was the king of his castle but the woman was not his queen— more his servant and concubine. As long as women have control of their reproductive health, men don't have control of women.

The entire position of the RRR on the issue of choice is rather hypocritical: they claim to be "pro-life", yet they are willing to sacrifice the life of at least one living, breathing human being (the mother) in order to "protect" the potential life of the unborn. This doesn't take into account the impact forcing a woman to have a baby would have on the rest of her family, including other children, her marriage/relationship with her partner/biological father, etc. For example, how about the hardship of forcing a mother with five children to have a sixth when it's already hard to make ends meet? What will the other five children have to go without in order that this fetus be given a chance to develop into a full human being? A recent article on the testimony before the South Dakota legislature of a pro-choice expert shows how the disregard for the mother and other family members is not just rhetorical speculation.

It is important to remember the second prong of the RRR's attack on a woman's right to choose. After the presidential elections, Senator Arlen Specter, the third ranking Republican in the Senate, who traditionally would become the head of the Judiciary Committee, said that it would be difficult for Bush's appointees to the federal courts to be approved if they were intent on overturning Roe v Wade. The backlash from the RRR almost cost Specter his seat as chairman of the committee. So while for the most part, their second prong is more "wait and see" until there's actually a nominee to support or protest, the RRR still carries clout and seeks to use their power to push through their agenda. If nothing else, the RRR's response to Senator Specter's comments as well as Bush's recent (1/23/06) assurance to anti-choice forces that "We will prevail" should prove to every American that the RRR is intent on overturning Roe v Wade in the next four years— something that every woman should be very concerned about.

In June, 2006, a PBS program aired in which Bush's new chief domestic policy adviser, Karl Zinsmeister, flat out said that he personally would support a law that would jail any doctor who performed an abortion. The program was taped before his appointment, which should be an even scarier thought to those who support a woman's right to choose. Knowing that this man favored such laws, Bush still appointed him as his chief domestic policy adviser.

Anti-choice forces have also begun to make use of a new tactic: buying and closing clinics that provide abortions. The problem is that many of these clinics also provide other women's health services, including prenatal care. Many of them are also the only clinics that the poor— or even the lower middle class— can afford for many preventative health services like birth control pills and Pap smears. When these clinics are closed, the women they service are often left with nowhere else to go. Yet this doesn't seem to bother the RRR. They don't seem to care about the life of women, just the unborn.

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1I have been unable to find out what happened with this case. Perhaps my goggling skills are rusty. But even if she is acquitted, Ms. Alston has had her life ruined. She's been arrested, her face plastered across the television and on newspapers. She's unable to work when she's in jail or on trial and she's had to pay for a defense attorney. She and her family have become pawns in the RRR's war on women's right to choose.
2I wrote a more extensive article on this case that you can access by clicking here. I am also very pleased to report that the man was acquitted of any responsibility in the death of the baby boy in a non-jury trial before a judge, who found that there was no way to determine beyond reasonable doubt that the man's actions were responsible in any way for the death of the boy. The mother, on the other hand, was never charged with anything in relation to her son's death despite her admitted drug use during those first critical months of his development.
3I wrote another article on this story that you can read here. The last I heard, in October, 2003, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Ms. McKnight's sentence. She is continuing to serve her 12 year sentence.
4There are other reasons that I do not consider a fetus fully human— but rather a potential human one step closer to being a full human than the unfertilized egg and sperm. But first, as you read the list, please keep in mind that once you are fully human, that cannot be taken from you. (Meaning that the RRR's attempts to say "If it applies to a fetus, it applies to someone on a respirator.")

  • Every living human being breathes oxygen into his lungs. A fetus does not use its lungs at all until the first breath is drawn. In fact, the blood flow in a fetus is backwards compared to living, breathing humans because the fetus gets its oxygen supply from the umbilical cord. All children are born with a whole in their heart between the ventricles of the heart so that the blood completely bypasses going through the lungs since the lungs do not oxygenate the fetus' blood supply.
  • Every living human being takes nourishment into their digestive system. A fetus does not.
  • If a newborn baby's mother dies, the newborn will not die as a result of the mother's no longer breathing or having a heartbeat. If a fetus' mother dies, the fetus will most certainly die as a result of the mother no longer breathing or having a heartbeat.

I believe all rights should be bestowed upon every newborn at the moment of birth or when that first breath is drawn, whichever comes first. Before that, there is no guarantee that the fetus will survive the birthing process and to give it rights before it is born is premature. (No pun intended.)

5I use the term "anti-choice" instead of "pro-life" because from my personal experience, there are very few anti-choice people who are truly pro-life. Most anti-choice advocates support the death penalty and/or killing in self-defense/war. Additionally, all anti-choice advocates place the "rights" of a potential human being above the rights of a full human being. Yes, a fertilized human egg can only become a human being. But an unfertilized egg can only become a human being after it is fertilized. So the fertilized egg (and resulting fetus later on) is only one step closer to becoming a full human being than the unfertilized egg. A human hair cell can only belong on a human, and yet we don't give our hair full and equal rights as we have.

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