Sunday, 20 February 2011

N.H. Seeks Criminal Penalties for Killing an Unborn Child

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preborn babyA pre-born infant may not be a legal person under current law, but some New Hampshire legislators want pre-borns who are killed by someone other than their mothers and their mothers' physicians classified as homicide victims. A bill in the New Hampshire House would allow criminal prosecution of persons whose actions result in the death of an "unborn child." It would make the death of the unborn an additional crime in cases where a pregnant woman is assaulted, for example, or is hit by a drunk driver. The bill exempts actions taken by the pregnant woman or her physician, however, so abortions would not be affected. Still, testimony at a public hearing in Concord on February 17 showed the usual division on the abortion issue, with abortion opponents supporting the measure and "pro-choice" advocates fearful of the implications of a bill that describes an "unborn child" as someone between conception and birth.

"Inevitably, it will come under constitutional challenge and become a lightning rod of abortion politics," insisted Katherine Cooper of the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Kary Nealle Jenks, political director of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said, "The laws on the books now are adequate to address the issue in the best possible way." Opponents of the bill cited legal complications involved in defining pre-born infants as persons in some cases, but not in others. But supporters argued that justice requires a serious penalty for people whose actions, such as driving while drunk, result in the killing of someone else's unborn child.

"Where is the justice for the woman who has chosen to have a child, but by [someone's] act of recklessness has lost the child?" asked Barbara Hagan of Manchester, a former state representative and longtime abortion foe. Rep. Kathy Souza (R-Manchester), a co-sponsor of the bill, noted that similar laws have been enacted in 36 states.

Costs associated with the bill would include a jury trial for the accused, fees for public defenders, and whatever prison time might be imposed, at the rate of $32,500 per inmate per year, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported. But supporters focused on the immeasurable value of life yet unborn. "All it needs is nurturing," said Rep. Joseph Krasucki, a Nashua Republican. Former state Rep. Harriet Cady, a Republican from Deerfield, said couples expecting a child "are not looking at a fetus, they are looking at a baby."  

Hagan, who has seen and participated in a great many debates at the State House over the protection of pre-born life, believes the number of pro-life Republicans elected to the House last year gives the bill a better chance for passage than has been the case in previous years when similar efforts were voted down.

"In this instance I have seen more hope than I have ever seen before," she said.

Related article:

South Dakota Unborn-child Defense Bill Dead, for Now

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