Utah Supreme Court Upholds Unborn Victims Law

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 31, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Utah Supreme Court Upholds Pro-Life Unborn Victims Law

by Paul Nowak
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
January 31, 2004

Salt Lake City, UT (LifeNews.com) — The highest court in Utah has upheld the state’s statute including unborn children as murder victims in violent crimes, adding the Beehive State to the growing list of states recognizing unborn children as human lives to be protected.

On January 23, the Utah Supreme Court upheld 4-1 the state’s statute defining homicide as causing "the death of another human being, including an unborn child." Roger MacGuire, who was charged with the murder of his ex-wife and her unborn child, challenged the statute saying that the term "unborn child" was undefined. The Court ruled that the definition was defined sufficiently by reason.

"The common-sense meaning of the term ‘unborn child’ is a human being at any stage of development in utero, because once fertilization occurs, an unborn child is an ‘individual human life’ that is ‘in existence and developing prior to birth,’ " the court said in its opinion.

MacGuire was also charged under the Utah’s aggravated murder statute, which prescribes more severe penalties in cases where two or more "persons" are killed. The Utah Supreme Court also ruled that statute as consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

"In Utah, we believe that it’s a crime to kill an unborn child unless you’re the mother of that child, with a constitutional right to make that choice," said Attorney General Christopher Ballard. "But no one else has the right to make that choice for the mother, and that is what this ruling affirms."

Pro-life groups support such laws because they offer mothers and their babies before birth added protection under law from criminals who prey on pregnant women through assault.

Lawsuits against similar laws in other states have been turned back and the laws have been upheld in every instance.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine M. Durham dissented on the aggravated murder charge, stating in her opinion that personhood should not be bestowed on unborn children.

"Declaring a fetus to be a ‘person’ entitled to equal protection would require not only overturning Roe v. Wade but also making abortion, as a matter of constitutional law, illegal in all circumstances, even to save the life of the mother," Durham wrote.

According to the National Right to Life Committee, 28 states have unborn victims laws, including 15 that cover mothers and their unborn children throughout pregnancy. There has never been a successful challenge to the constitutionality of such laws.

"The Utah Supreme Court has now joined the California Supreme Court, the Minnesota Supreme Court, and many other courts in agreement that fetal homicide laws do not contradict Roe v. Wade," Doug Johnson, Legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee told LifeNews.com. "It is past time for every state to recognize that when a criminal attacks a pregnant woman, he claims two victims — and for Congress to adopt the same principle for federal and military criminal law."

Utah’s fetal homicide statute was used in 1997 to charge Dayna Pittman with child abuse after her use of methamphetamine resulted in the death of her unborn child. Pittman pleaded guilty to the charge, and there have been two other cases in which the statute was applied to women who harmed their unborn children with drugs.

A federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act is being considered, and although it has passed the House twice it has been stalled both times in the Senate. The high-profile murder case of Laci Peterson and her unborn son Connor has raised awareness to the lack of such protection for the unborn on a federal level.

Related Sites:

Listing of State Fetal Homicide Laws
State Unborn Victims Laws Challenges – https://www.nrlc.org/Unborn_Victims/statechallenges.html