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04/20/03 - Posted 11:52:10 PM from the Daily Record newsroom

Laci Peterson case tied to Roe debate

By Rob Jennings, Daily Record

The head of the National Organization for Women's Morris County chapter is opposing a double-murder charge in the Laci Peterson case, saying it could provide ammunition to the pro-life lobby.

"If this is murder, well, then any time a late-term fetus is aborted, they could call it murder," Morris County NOW President Mavra Stark said on Saturday.

Prosecutors in California announced Friday their intention to charge Scott Peterson, 30, of Modesto, both with killing his wife and their unborn son. Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared Dec. 24.

Both bodies were identified on Friday after washing up on the shore of San Francisco Bay.

More than two dozen states, including California, have adopted "fetal homicide" statutes, and prosecutors often will seek a double-murder charge when a pregnant woman is killed.

Marie Tasy, public and legislative affairs director for New Jersey Right To Life, countered that a double-murder charge against Scott Peterson is appropriate. She assailed pro-choice activists for opposing fetal homicide statutes.

"Obviously he was wanted by the mother," Tasy said.

"Clearly groups like NOW are doing a great injustice to women by opposing these laws. It just shows you how extreme, and to what lengths, these groups will go to protect the right to abortion."

Fetal homicide laws have been opposed by some pro-choice organizations that fear they will undermine a woman's right to choose an abortion, even though the statues exempt legal abortions.

After watching news reports of Peterson's arrest, Stark expressed concern with the tone of the coverage.

"There's something about this that bothers me a little bit," Stark said. "Was it born, or was it unborn? If it was unborn, then I can't see charging (Peterson) with a double-murder."

Some pro-lifers hope fetal homicide laws will establish a precedent that fetuses are human beings, thereby fueling efforts to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Laci Peterson's due date was Feb. 10, and she already had picked out a name -- Connor -- for her unborn son. Stark said that added to the tragedy of the case, but shouldn't result in an additional murder charge.

"He was wanted and expected, and (Laci Peterson) had a name for him, but if he wasn't born, he wasn't born. It sets a kind of precedent," Stark said, adding that the issue was "just something I've been ruminating on."

There is no fetal homicide statute in New Jersey, considered one of the nation's most pro-choice states. Under California law, murder charges can result if the fetus is older than seven weeks.

To convict Peterson of murdering his unborn son, prosecutors would have to prove either that he intended to kill the fetus or knew that it would die as a result of Laci Peterson's death.

"The argument that (fetal homicide statutes) would interfere with abortion rights is ridiculous," Tasy said. "These groups are so radical that they would deny recourse to a family for the loss of a wanted child."

The second murder charge against Peterson is crucial because he otherwise would not be eligible for the death penalty. The double-murder charge qualifies as a "special circumstance" for which capital punishment may be sought.

Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty against Peterson, who will be arraigned on Monday. He is being held in the Stanislaus County Jail.

Stark said that despite her opposition to the double-murder charge, she is not sympathetic to Scott Peterson. "I'd like to see them string him up," Stark said, "any way they can."

Rob Jennings can be reached at or (973) 989-0652.

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