CruxNow 31 March 2015
On March 18, Michelle Wilkins answered a Craigslist ad for baby clothes. When she arrived at the seller’s home, Dynel Lane, a former nurse’s aide, attacked her, cut her open, and removed her unborn child. Wilkins survived the incident; her child did not.
Hearing about this horrifying crime provokes a sense of moral revulsion, as well as a demand for justice to be carried out against the killer. But this crime took place in Colorado, and therefore, the attacker will not face murder charges. Colorado state law does not recognize the fetus as a person unless the fetus has reached the point he or she can survive outside the womb.
Today, 38 states have fetal homicide laws that increase penalties for crimes involving pregnant women or explicitly refer to the fetus as a person worthy of protection.
But creating and passing these laws is a contentious process because it takes lawmakers to the heart of our society’s debate over abortion: What is the unborn?
Opponents fear that some of these laws go too far in bestowing “personhood” on the unborn and may jeopardize a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. Supporters believe these laws provide justice for women like Wilkins and Laci Peterson, a pregnant California woman who disappeared in 2002.
The debate over fetal homicide reveals our society’s inconsistency in the ongoing debate over abortion: We only affirm the humanity of the unborn if the child is “wanted.”
With friends and neighbors and family members who celebrate a pregnancy, we speak of the unborn in warm and personal terms: “baby” and “child.” When debating the right to abortion, we speak of the unborn in clinical and impersonal terms: “fetus,” ”zygote,” or “tissue.” One wonders if our manner of conversation conveniently shifts, depending on the context, or whenever we find it necessary to distance ourselves from the humanity of the unborn.
American views of the morality and legality of abortion are complex, defying the conventional labels of “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” and confounding activists on both sides who see the issue with black-and-white clarity. Describing American views as “complex” is the nice way to put it; it may be more accurate to say we’re muddled on the morality of abortion because we are inconsistent in our view of human life in the womb.