Peterson: Moving Toward Trial

February 27, 2004

House passes Laci and Conner's Law

WASHINGTON -- Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, in a videotaped message after House passage of Laci and Conner's Law on Thursday, urged the Senate to do the same.

The Modesto woman, in the videotape played at a news conference, urged Democratic presidential candidates John Edwards and John Kerry "and every other senator who has refused to support it, to reconsider."

Under the proposed law, officially known as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, attacks on pregnant women could bring double charges, for crimes against the women and their fetuses.

The White House is in favor, while critics say the law would undermine abortion rights by giving fetuses new federal legal status.

"We must continue to build a culture of life in this country, a compassionate society in which every child is born into a loving family and protected by law," President Bush said.

The House voted 254-163 to approve the legislation. Reps. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, both of whom represent portions of Modesto, voted in favor of the bill. So did Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy.

Peterson, from Modesto, disappeared around Christmas 2002. She was 27 and pregnant with Conner.

Authorities believe her husband, Scott, 31, was the killer, and he now is being prosecuted on charges of double murder -- which is allowed under California law. Twenty-eight other states have similar laws allowing murder prosecutions in fetal deaths.

But the federal government does not allow such prosecution. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act would be applicable for offenses on federal land, or anywhere when such federal crimes as terrorism or drug trafficking were involved.

The bill is this year's prime measure dealing with the unborn.

"There are two victims in these kinds of attacks," said Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa., chief sponsor of the legislation. "That is so clear from the Laci and Conner Peterson case."

Thursday's passage came after the House rejected a Democratic-led alternative that would have increased penalties for attacks on pregnant women in which fetuses are injured or killed -- without conferring new rights on fetuses.

The White House opposed any "one-victim" alternatives, such as that offered by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose. Her substitute, backed by most Democrats, failed 229-186.

Supporters denied that the bill was about abortion, pointing to language that guards against people being prosecuted for carrying out legal abortions. But the abortion issue dominated the debate.

The House passed unborn victims' bills twice before, in 1999 and 2001. But the legislation never came up in the Senate, where abortion rights lawmakers hold greater sway.

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