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Published: June 2, 2003

Laci Peterson's family has entered the political arena, lending their names
Wednesday to legislation that would make killing a fetus a distinct federal crime.
Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, father, Dennis Rocha, stepfather, Ron Grantski
and her siblings consider the bill introduced in the House on Wednesday and
re-introduced in the Senate a fitting tribute to a woman
eight months pregnant when she was killed.


"As the family of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, this bill is very close to
our hearts," the family
stated in a letter made public on Capitol Hill. "We have not only
lost our future with our daughter and sister, but with our grandson and nephew as well."


The family support represents a considerable public relations push for
conservative lawmakers who have been working toward the
Unborn Victims of Violence Act for several years.


"This case really illustrates the need for this law," said Amanda Flaig,
spokeswoman for Republican Sen. Michael DeWine of Ohio.
"It puts a human face on the fact that there were two people killed."


The legislation would let the federal government charge people with killing a fetus,
if the fetus dies in the commission of a federal crime. California and 25 other
states have similar laws, which is why Scott Peterson is being charged with two
counts of murder in the deaths of his wife and their unborn son.


The federal legislation would go further than California's law, though; California's
law protects a fetus that has passed the "embryonic stage," pegged at seven or
eight weeks, while the more ambitious federal legislation would protect a
fetus "at any stage of development."


Similar attempts rejected
The House passed similar legislation in 1999 and 2001 by relatively comfortable
margins, but it did not win Senate approval. Although the legislation specifically
exempts abortion, foes dismiss it as a back-door strategy to undermine abortion rights.


"It is a sad statement that anti-choice leaders are willing to use a family's tragedy
to continue their campaign to steadily take away a woman's right to choose,"
said Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro Choice America. "The only thing new
about this bill is the length to which anti-choice lawmakers and advocates are
willing to go to exploit a family's pain in order to move their own political agenda. "


Merced Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza, describing himself as "a hawk
on people who commit crimes," said Wednesday he would support the
legislation if it does not infringe on a woman's right to choose. He said
that determination can only be made with a careful review of the bill.


Others have been rendered temporarily gun-shy by the notoriety of the
Peterson case. Spokeswomen for the National Organization for Women,
for instance, say they won't discuss the issue out of "respect for the
Peterson family" even though they have traditionally opposed the legislation.


A Fox News poll from late April spotlighted by the National Right to Life Committee
on Wednesday found 84 percent of the 900 registered voters surveyed
believed Scott Peterson properly could be charged with double homicide.


Bush's support reiterated
About the same time, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
was reiterating President Bush's support for the measure.


"The president does believe that when an unborn child is injured or killed during
the commission of a crime of violence, the law should recognize what most people
immediately recognize, and that is that such a crime has two victims," Fleischer said.


In keeping with the titling of other anti-crime bills, lawmakers are
personalizing the legislation by attaching Laci Peterson's name to it.
In recent years, Congress has passed Megan's law, Suzanne's law,
the Code Adam Act and the Amber Alert measure, among others.


"When we heard about this bill, we immediately thought of placing a request to
have it named Laci and Conner's law in their honor," the family members wrote.


Pennsylvania Republican Melissa Hart, sponsor of a similar bill
that became law while she was in the Pennsylvania Legislature,
obliged by terming her bill introduced Wednesday the
"Unborn Victims of Violence Act," or "Laci and Conner's Law."


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