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Petering Out
The Court Delivers a Partial Death for Abortion
November 2004

On Monday, November 22nd, the jury of California v. Peterson will begin to hear testimony on the sentencing of Scott Lee Peterson, who was pronounced guilty last week for the murder of his wife, Laci, and her unborn son, Conner. The controversial Unborn Victims of Violence Act, signed into law last April, will heavily influence this decision.

Under the Act, anyone who causes “the death of, or bodily injury to, a child who is in utero” must receive a separate charge, as if “that injury or death [had] occurred to the unborn child’s mother.” Thus, the court found Peterson guilty of “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously” murdering both “Laci Denise Peterson, a human being” and “Baby Conner Peterson, a fetus.” If both counts warrant the same punishment, why regard only one of the victims as human?

Marva Stark, director of the New Jersey chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW), provided one reason in a statement last May: “If this is murder, well, then any time a late-term fetus is aborted, they could call it murder,” she blurted. Indeed, with partial birth abortion still legal in most states, a woman who chooses to abort a baby Conner’s age would break no law. Yet in a recent poll, 84 percent of registered voters agreed that Conner Peterson’s drowning deserved a charge of double-homicide.

How does the practice of partial birth abortion differ from what happened to Conner Peterson? Some argue that women must make their own choices about their bodies. A woman can choose to terminate a baby she does not desire or feel ready to bear, they say, but this does not constitute murder. Since the baby remains inside her body, only she can make this choice.

Logically and scientifically, one cannot define a woman’s body to encompass two sets of brains, arms, and toes, one several times tinier than the other. A partial birth abortion, usually performed after the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy, requires an abortionist to dilate a mother’s cervix for three days. He then grabs the baby’s legs with a forceps, pulls it through the birth canal, and delivers the body up to its shoulders. Jamming scissors into the skull, he forms a round hole, inserts a suction tube, and vacuums out the baby’s brains. After causing the skull to collapse, he removes the body. To call this practice anything other than murder is to perpetuate a disturbing delusion. One may counter that doctors only perform partial birth abortion in order to protect the mother’s health, but the evidence weighs against this claim. First, some states allow this exception to incorporate emotional and mental danger to the mother’s health, not just physical—if she does not want the baby, her jitters warrant terminating its life. Second, modern technology offers plenty of viable alternatives to abortion.

Dr. Harlan Giles, a professor of highrisk obstetrics and perinatology at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, performs abortions by a variety of procedures up until ‘viability.’ Yet in his 1995 testimony before the Federal District Court of Ohio, he said, “[N]o maternal conditions that I’m aware of … require that the fetus be dead or that the fetal life be terminated. In my experience for 20 years, one can deliver these fetuses either vaginally, or by Cesarean section for that matter.” He added, “There’s no reason these fetuses cannot be delivered intact … and be at least assessed at birth and given the benefit of the doubt.” With today’s alternative birth methods, saving a mother’s life does not require killing her unborn baby.

Partial birth abortion certainly does grant a mother the right to choose—that is, to choose when her baby constitutes a life and when it does not. No mother should ever deny her baby a chance at life based solely on inconvenience. The murder of Conner Peterson calls us to justice. We must dismiss the illogical and unscientific excuses that permit a willful—and lawful— form of murder, and give partial birth abortion exactly what it deserves: an immediate termination.


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