Kentucky Court: Some Unborn Children Can Be Protected From Violence

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 17, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Kentucky Court: Some Unborn Children Can Be Protected From Violence

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 17, 2004

Washington, DC ( — The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday that an unborn child capable of living outside the mother is a person, allowing for criminal penalties when violent crimes against a pregnant woman result in injury or death to her unborn child.

The highest court in Kentucky had changed its position by ruling the viable unborn child was a person, as it previously had said only infants "born alive" were persons.

While Kentucky passed its unborn victims law in February, which protects unborn children at all stages of development, the Court ruled on a March 2001 case in which a speeding driver under the influence of drugs ran a red light and killed a pregnant woman in labor.

Since the unborn victims law was not retroactive, Charles Christopher Morris could not be charged under it, but he pleaded guilty to two charges of manslaughter in February, with the right to appeal the charge for the unborn child.

Unborn victims laws allow prosecutors to charge criminals with an additional crime when they kill or injure an unborn child as a result of attacking a pregnant women.

The Kentucky high court’s decision seemingly allows prosecutors to charge criminals with murder if the death of the unborn baby occurs after viability.

Should injury or death occur to an unborn child before viability, criminals could be charged under the new law, which the court did not invalidate.

Currently 30 states have laws allowing for criminal charges in the death of unborn children, 18 of which protect the baby from the moment of conception. None of those laws have ever been successfully challenged in court.

Passage of Kentucky’s unborn victims law was prompted by several tragic cases, including Charmaine Holbrook who lost her unborn child last summer in an automobile accident.

Speaking at a rally for the legislation in January, she lamented that the other driver, who tried to pass in a no-passing zone, will be tried for a single charge of assault on her. He won’t be held accountable for killing her baby.

"That man won’t spend one day — not one day in jail for killing my daughter," Holbrook said in a choked voice. "That’s unthinkable."

President Bush signed a federal Unborn Victims of Violence Law in March. Sharon Rocha, mother of Laci Peterson, had voiced her support of the bill, and had criticized members of the Senate, including presidential hopeful John Kerry, who had stalled and opposed the bill.

Peterson disappeared in December of 2002, and the bodies of her and her unborn son Conner washed up on the shore of the San Francisco bay in April 2003. In a case receiving national media attention, her husband Scott is currently standing trial for both murders, under California’s unborn victims law.