By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Buoyed by a new and high-profile endorsement, backers of a bill making it a federal crime to harm a fetus while attacking a woman said Wednesday they hope to make the measure law within a month.
Sponsors Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa., unveiled a letter they got two days ago from the family of Laci Peterson, who along with her unborn son Conner was found murdered off the California coast.
"This bill is very close to our hearts," wrote six members of her family, who asked that it be named "Laci and Conner's" law.
"Knowing that perpetrators who murder pregnant women will pay the price not only for the loss of the mother, but the baby as well, will help bring justice for these victims and hopefully act as a deterrent to those considering such heinous acts," they wrote. The letter was signed by Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha; Rocha's husband, Ron Grantski; and by Peterson's four brothers and sisters.
Abortion rights groups accused DeWine and others of exploiting the Peterson case for their political goal of ending legalized abortion. The bill wouldn't deter anyone from violence, they said, and it "equates zygotes, embryos and fetuses with people for legal purposes," according to Naral Pro-choice America.
"It is a sad statement that anti-choice leaders are willing to use a family's tragedy to continue their campaign to steadily take away a women's right to choose," said Kate Michelman, president of the abortion rights group.
The bill is now called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, though DeWine said the name could change. It would make it a federal crime to kill or injure a fetus - at any stage of development - during the commission of another federal crime.
It would not apply in the Peterson case. That's being handled under California state law, which allows prosecutors to charge Scott Peterson, Laci's husband, with both her murder and Conner's. Scott Peterson pleaded not guilty.
DeWine said at a news conference that the Peterson killings have highlighted what he and anti-abortion groups view as a major problem. They believe that someone who kills a fetus during a crime can't be charged with anything under federal law for its death.
While 26 states have laws making it a crime to harm a fetus during the commission of another crime, there have been a handful of cases - on military bases, during other federal crimes like kidnapping or terrorism - where killing a fetus did not bring any charges.
Backers of the bill say that it would not allow prosecution for any abortion. Nor could the mother be charged.
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