Montana House OKs Bill for Justice for Pregnant Women, Unborn

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 20, 2011   |   8:44PM   |   Helena, MT

The Montana state House has okayed a bill that would provdie justice and protection for pregnant women and their unborn children who are victims of violant attacks outside the context of abrotion. More than 36 other states have similar laws as does the federal government.

Supporters of the bill say it is needed because prosecutors currently only have the ability to charge criminals in cases when they kill or injure a pregnant woman, but they are not held reponsible for the death of or injury to the unborn child. The law would help potential victims like Laci Peterson and her unborn son Connor, who were the victims of a murder in California in what became the most famous case of its kind.

Abrotion backers frequently attack such laws saying they will be used to target legal abortion but that has not been the case in other states or nationally since such laws expempt abrotion and are only used in the case of criminal law.

The House initially approved the bill today on a 70-29 vote, according to the Helena Independent Record, and the measure is expected to receive a similar vote on third and final reading. After that, the legislation heads to the state Senate for consideration.

Rep. Keith Regier, a Kalispell Republican who is behind the bill, says it has nothing to do with abortion and is similar to laws in dozens of other states and nationally that ensure criminals who killed pregnant women and their unborn children can be charged with two crimes for two victims instead of just being held accountable for killing or injuring the mother.

“House Bill 167 does not include legal abortions or infringe on a woman’s right to choose,” Regier said, according to the Great Falls Tribune.

“Thirty-five states recognize the unlawful killing of an unborn child as homicide in at least some circumstances,” Regier said. “Montana’s bordering states have statutes that recognize unborn victims.”

Regier said state law currently is inconsistent because it recognizes the value of unfinished houses and pregnant cows – but not pregnant women and their babies.

The legislation defines an “unborn child” as a “human who is conceived but not yet born” for the purposes of homicides, but adds an abortion exemption to ensure it doesn’t run afoul of the Supreme Court decision allowing abortions. It also contains exceptions for doctors practicing on pregnant women who may inadvertently hurt an unborn children in the commission of otherwise helpful medical care.

During the hearing on the bill, Rep. Ellie Hill, a Democrat, opposed the bill and attempted to confuse lawmakers by saying it would define unborn children as persons for the purpose of banning abortions.

Niki Zupanic, public policy director for the pro-abortion American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, also testified on the bill, opposing it.

Lindsay Love, a lobbyist for Montana Planned Parenthood, opposed the bill as well.

“House Bill 167 would criminalize the illegal killing of an unborn baby. It does not affect the right to choose. A woman’s desires into how she carries out her pregnancy, if she wants to, it’s not affected at all. But what it does is put a value on a desired, unborn child,” Regier says.

According to the National Right to Life Committee, 35 states have similar laws as HB 167, including 25 that offer women and their unborn children protection throughout the entire pregnancy. In over a dozen cases nationwide, an Unborn Victims of Violence law has never been successfully challenged in court.

The deaths of Laci and Conner Peterson prompted Congress to renew its efforts to pass the legislation, which pro-life President George W. Bush ultimately signed. The bill was endorsed by Sharon Rocha, mother of Laci Peterson and grandmother of her unborn child Conner, whose bodies washed up on the California coast last year in a case that received national attention.