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N.C. law aims to protect unborn children
Killing expectant moms doubles penalty
 
Published Thursday, May 12, 2011 8:18 am
by Sommer Brokaw

Effie Steele’s daughter, Ebony Robinson, was 8 1/2 months pregnant with her grandson, Elijah, when she was shot to death in December 2007.

Kenneth White was charged with the murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Earlier that same year, Kevin Blaine’s daughter, Jenna Nielsen, was also 8 1/2 months pregnant with her third son. Blaine said she had picked his name, Ethen and his room decorated.

Nielsen was stabbed to death while delivering newspapers to earn extra cash for her baby. To date, the killer hasn’t been apprehended.

According to N.C. law, the murderers in these cases can only be charged with killing the adults. But that’s about to change.
On April 29, Gov. Bev Perdue signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allows prosecutors to charge any person who murders a pregnant woman with two counts.

“This bill has nothing to do with black and white, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. It has to do with murderers, especially murderers who harm pregnant women, many times because they are pregnant,” said Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, a primary sponsor.

“As a woman and as governor, I strongly support protecting a woman’s reproductive rights,” Perdue said in a statement. “But I have children of my own, and grandchildren. I know the powerful instinct of a mother to protect her children, and I know how I would feel if anyone had harmed my daughters-in-law or me when we were pregnant.”

Jeff Gerber, founder of the Justice for All Coalition, who previously fought for Jessica’s Law, which gives 25 years to life sentences to anyone who rapes a child under age 13, organized this coalition two years ago to get the law passed. The bill had been introduced for several years without getting heard.

“All we asked for all along was to at least allow a vote to pass,” he said. “Previous leadership repeatedly refused for a vote to take place, repeatedly allowed it to die in committee. That outraged me, and that was the driving force to hold press conferences throughout the state and to put pressure on the legislature by promoting public awareness.”

Blaine said the law, also called Ethen’s Law after his late grandson, would not help in his daughter’s case since it’s not retroactive. But that didn’t stop him from lobbying for the bill.

“I’m still just overwhelmed for the fact that I was part of getting a bill passed in this state,” he said. “I’m just a regular guy, just a grandpa. I never thought I’d be pulled into any kind of politics or anything.”

Steele also lobbied for the law by speaking out at various venues. “It means victory, first of all, and, secondly, it means that the battle, the long fought battle, has been won and that no other family will have to experience what I did when I found out there was no law in the books to protect unborn babies,” she said.

Critics say they are concerned the law recognizes life starting at conception, which could be used as a ploy to take away women’s legal abortion rights.

“This exploits the issue of violence against women in order to make political gain in the abortion debate,” said Cary Pope, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice N.C.

But supporters deny the accusation.

“My biggest opposition is pro-choice people are all about choice,” Blaine said. “My argument to that is my daughter had a choice, a choice that was given to her because we live in a free country. She had that choice to choose to either have an abortion or go full term to have a child, and she chose to give birth to this child and that choice was taken away from her when she was murdered.”

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