Remembering Conner Peterson 
A name reminds us of an unborn baby's humanity
June 2, 2003
By Tara Ross

Most remember the new movie classic, A Few Good Men, as the film in
which a thundering Jack Nicholson bellows at Tom Cruise, 
“You can’t handle the truth!”  In the movie, Cruise plays the part of
Lt. Daniel Kaffee, a  JAG lawyer assigned to defend two Marines
accused of murdering  Pfc. William T. Santiago. As Kaffee prepares
for the trial awaiting , he gives an invaluable piece of advice. Don’t call
the victim “Willy” in court.  “You start calling him Willy and all of a
sudden he’s a person who’s got a mother who’s gonna miss him."

The principle espoused by Kaffee has been implicitly accepted
by today’s pro-choice movement. They live by a cardinal rule:
Call it a fetus, not a babyDon’t give it a name. Start calling it a baby and
all of a sudden he’s a person who’s got a mother who’s gonna miss him.

The deaths of Laci and Conner Peterson are undermining the efforts of these
ideologuesto normalize the use of the word “fetus,” even in reference to babies
who are meredays away from birth.  As the Peterson story unfolds before the
eyes of a sympatheticpublic, media correspondents refer to Laci’s baby by his
name—Conner.In doing so, they have humanized him, perhaps despite themselves.

This shouldn’t be news. But it is. Whether for philosophical reasons or not, reporters
seem to be unusually fond of the word “fetus,” even when discussing third trimester
babies. Consider these samples, pulled from recent newspaper articles:

The Associated Press reports that a man has been convicted of helping
to kill a mother, “the full-term fetus she carried and her children.”

The Chicago Tribune informs readers of a man charged “with a shooting that killed a pregnant
woman outside her Logan Square restaurantand left her 8-month fetus in critical condition.”

The Daily Herald, a newspaper for the Chicago suburbs, describes the “triple murder of a mother
and her two children, in which an ex-boyfriend cut open her womb and stole the full-term fetus.”

The Commercial Appeal recounts the details of a crime in which the
beating of a woman “resulted in the death of her fetus.” The woman
“was days [away] from giving birth when she was attacked.”

Reporting on Laci and Conner’s deaths, by contrast, is not following this pattern. Conner is called
“Baby Conner,” Laci’s “unborn son,""Little Conner,” Laci’s “infant son,” Laci’s “not-quite-born son,”
or even Laci’s “nearly full-term son,Conner.”  This is not to say that the word “fetus” is entirely
absent in news stories regarding the Peterson murder. The New York Times, for instance,
steadfastly reported last month that the “remains of a woman and a dead fetus” had been found
in the San Francisco Bay. Despite these occurrences, though, use of the impersonal term
“fetus” seems subdued. Perhaps the change is more perceived than real—merely a result
of the massive amount of media attention devoted to the story and the outpouring of
sympathy for the Rocha family and the daughter and grandson they lost. Whatever the
reason, Conner himself is routinely andindividually recognized in news updates.
The repeated use of his name over thepast several months has had an impact.

A name, after all, attaches personhood. It reflects personality and individuality.Conner
was a human being, with his own individual personality traits, physical characteristics,
even his own sense of humor. The fact that we did not have the chance to know him
does not mean that there was no one there to know. Use of his name reminds us of
his individuality and the painful loss it is to his family that they will never meet him.

Several congressmen have recognized the power of Conner’s name. They have renamed the
federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act  “Laci & Conner’s Law.”  Recent debate over the renamed
law reflects the moral confusion of a nation that simultaneously allows unborn children to be
killed by their mothers, while being rightfully outraged at the alleged murder of a wifeand child
by a husband and father. For instance, attorney Lisa Bloom has argued on MSNBC, “This
was Laci Peterson’s choice to abort that child if she so chose and she did not elect to do
that.  She wanted to bring littleConner to term.” An indictment on two counts of murder,
she says, is valid because “even her husband could not get that side of Laci’s choice.”

A homicide prosecution should not turn on the state of mind of the mother. If the mother
changes her mind about having an abortion, is the baby in one instant a person of
intrinsic value, in the next merely a blob of cells? Either it is a human life, or it isn’t.

Conner’s life, though short, was one of great value. He did not create the moral
dilemma that Americans finds themselves in, but his tragic death has highlighted
its existence. It is a fallacy to be outraged when a stranger takes a baby’s life,
while fighting in court to defend a mother’s right to do the very same thing.

This time, we have a name to remind us of one baby’s humanity. Someday, we will
routinely have 3-D sonograms of our unborn children as well—putting not just names,
but faces, to the youngest among us. Faced with this mounting evidence of what is growing
inside a mother’s womb, one wonders how we, as a nation, will continue to accept
the brutal slaying of innocent babies, be it by strangers or by their mothers.