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May 22, 2006 09:00 AM

Commentary by David Brandao

In Suffolk, Virginia last February 23, a gunshot to the abdomen during the ninth month of her pregnancy took the life of Tammy Skinner's preborn baby. The case went to court last week. According to the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, the shooter's attorney argued that no crime had occurred; the judge agreed and dismissed the charges.

It sounds incredible, but the judge simply followed the letter of the law. It was not a crime because the person who shot and killed Tammy Skinner's baby was ... Tammy Skinner.

Attorney Kevin Martingayle successfully argued that the law under which Skinner was charged is only applicable if a party other than the mother is responsible for the action that brings about the child's death.

A number of states have enacted similar laws, most of which specify that a person who assaults a pregnant woman and injures her preborn child can be charged with a crime against the baby. But if it's the mother of the child who wants the baby dead (though usually this involves hiring an abortionist), the laws specify that it is not a crime.

The Skinner case is a horrifying, real-world enactment of one of those seemingly far-fetched "what if" scenarios that people pose when such laws are being debated. The response is generally, "Oh that would never happen." Well -- yes it did. And now that Tammy Skinner is off the hook, it's a good time to rethink fetal protection statutes.

It would seem clearly contradictory to construct legislation that makes the death of a preborn child a crime in one case but a consequence-free "choice" in another. Simply put, logic is absent; consistency of argument is non-existent. The same person (the baby) meeting the same end (violent death) by the same means (through the hand of another person) is promised justice in one instance but utterly ignored in the other. "Get a grip," we're told by those who sanction abortion; "it isn't a baby until the woman says it is."

Unfortunately, the story of Tammy Skinner isn't a theoretical example from a debate class; it's a stunning dose of reality from the school of hard knocks. And the lesson for pro-lifers who support "fetal protection" legislation could well be summed up as: "Be careful what you ask for; you may get it."

Put another way, beware of any law that says the child in the womb is a person in one case, but not a person in another -- and the same child can be a person and a non-person at precisely the same instant, depending on whose perspective is being considered. It is such a law that has resulted in justice denied for Tammy Skinner's child.

Another "what if" scenario involving fetal injury laws is the hypothetical case of a woman struck by a car as she's walking to her appointment at the abortion clinic. The driver can be charged with vehicular homicide and go to prison for doing with an automobile the very thing the abortionist was going to do with surgical equipment. Not only is logic absent, but so also is any sense of justice.

When such flawed legislation is enacted, it's only a matter of time before a Tammy Skinner comes along and shows in all too graphic terms just exactly what can result in the wake of such legal doublespeak.

Judging from the account in the Virginian-Pilot, it is fair to assume that even Tammy Skinner thought what she did was wrong. She did not initially tell the police that she had performed a rather crude do-it-yourself abortion; no, she lied. She told police that a man had shot her and pushed her out of her car. In her second version of the story, the child's father was said to be the shooter. When the truth eventually came out, however, it was clear that the shooter was in fact the child's mother.

In the courtroom, attorney Martingayle prevailed for his client. "It was clear to me, and clear to the judge, that you cannot convict when an expectant mother does this," he told reporters. An additional charge of using a firearm during the commission of a felony was also thrown out, since according to the judge's ruling, no felony was committed.

The only charge against Skinner that stuck was lying -- filing a false police report. The judge suspended the 30-day jail sentence, but she may have to pay between $750 and $1500 in court costs (which still may be cheaper than a late-term abortion).

Skinner may have won her case, but even her attorney wonders if the outcome can really be declared a victory. "She'll be paying the price the rest of her life," he said.

There are still no answers; only more questions, and more "what ifs."

"We are dealing with a woman who, by her own hands, killed her child on the day of its birth," Commonwealth's Attorney Phil Ferguson told reporters. "This was a nine-month fetus." The state may pursue other options for seeking justice, but right now the path is uncertain.

What is clear, however, is that the Tammy Skinner case exposes the ugly underside of the abortion culture. Every "choice" ends with a dead baby and a wounded mother, whether it happens in a public parking lot or in the antiseptic chambers of a "reproductive health care facility."

If we really want to pass a law that criminalizes violence against preborn children, let's do it right. Let's recognize these children as persons with legal standing from the moment of fertilization and protect them against all aggressors -- all of them.

Release issued: 19 May 06

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