Local News

Victims' families push for fetal homicide law

Posted October 31, 2009 5:46 p.m. EDT
Updated November 8, 2009 6:11 p.m. EST

— Relatives of murder victims spoke to a Chapel Hill crowd Saturday in support of proposed legislation that would recognize unborn children as victims in homicide cases.

Kevin Blaine, whose pregnant daughter, Jenna Nielsen, was stabbed to death behind a Raleigh convenience store in 2007, said he has been fighting for such legislation for years.

“He (Nielsen's killer) is still out free, wandering the Earth, while my daughter is not. Neither is my grandson,” Blaine said.

If Nielsen's killer is caught, he would be charged with one count of murder – not two.

“You can't tell me it is not a human being,” Blaine said of Nielsen's unborn child.

North Carolina law does not consider the death of an unborn child in a murder case to be a separate homicide. House Bill 890 would have allowed the state to prosecute for murder in cases in which an unborn child dies as a result of an attack on its mother. However, the bill never made it out of the Judiciary Committee.

“For one or two individuals to be against this bill and not allow the North Carolina House or the North Carolina Senate to take a full vote on this bill is a total outrage," said Jeff Gerber, a political activist and founder of the nonpartisan coalition Justice for All.

When similar bills have been introduced, various women's rights and pro-choice groups have spoken against it.

"The domestic violence community is concerned that this legislation could lead to holding a pregnant victim of domestic violence responsible ... because she did not protect her unborn child from a batterer," Beth Froehling, public policy director with the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said in a statement.

Families of victims at Saturday's gathering, however, said the legislation is about criminal justice.

“We are not out to take abortion rights away from anybody,” Blaine said.

Effie Steele's 21-year-old daughter, Ebony Robinson, was expected to give birth within weeks to her son, who was to be called Elijah, when her boyfriend shot and killed her in 2007.

"More than 30 states already have such laws in place, and North Carolina as a Bible Belt state, refuses to make murderers accountable for taking the life of an unborn baby," Steele said.

Michele Dye, whose pregnant daughter, Lucy Johnston, was shot to death last year in Gaston County, also spoke at the gathering, held at the Chapel Hill Public Library at 100 Library Drive.

At least 36 states nationwide recognize an unborn child as a second victim, according to the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a conservative public policy advocate.