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Justice for Unborn Victims

Mar 24, 2004 | Two Victims

The Daily Oklahoman
Published March 24, 2004

By Douglas Johnson

When Robbin Huff went to work at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on the morning of April 19, 1995, she had a companion — her unborn daughter, Amber Denise Huff. They died together when Timothy McVeigh’s bomb destroyed the building.

Yet the name of Amber Denise Huff does not appear on the official list of 168 victims killed in that horrendous crime, because federal law does not recognize unborn victims. This week, the U.S. Senate will decide whether to change that.

The federal government prosecutes for many acts of violence, involving military, tribal or other federal jurisdictions, or related to such activities as terrorism, major drug trafficking or interstate stalking. The bill would reform federal law to allow charges to be brought for unborn victims of future federal or military crimes.

The House of Representatives on Feb. 26 passed the bill, 254-163, with the entire Oklahoma House delegation voting for it.

Twenty-nine states allow prosecution for fetal homicide — including California, which will soon put Scott Peterson on trial for two counts of murder, for his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner. These laws do not apply to abortion.

Besides Amber, two other unborn children died in the 1995 bombing.

In powerfully moving testimony before a congressional panel in 1999, Michael James Lenz Jr., related how on the afternoon before the blast, he and his wife, Carrie Ann, saw their unborn son on an ultrasound screen, and promptly named him Michael James Lenz III.

The next morning, Carrie Lenz left early for work to show the ultrasound photos to her co-workers at the Drug Enforcement Administration office. In all likelihood, that is what she was doing when the bomb killed them both. “I lost the two people I loved most that day,” Lenz told the federal lawmakers.

In Oklahoma, the state courts now allow murder charges to be brought on behalf of unborn victims if they have reached so-called “viability” — that is, if the baby’s lungs are sufficiently developed to allow long-term survival independently of the mother, or about 24 weeks (five and one-half months).

The state is prosecuting Terry Nichols for the murder of Amber Denise Huff, among many others. A state murder charge on behalf of Michael James Lenz III was dismissed on technical procedural grounds, unrelated to his status under the law. For a third unborn victim, no charge was possible because that baby had not yet reached the 24-week point.

President Bush strongly supports the bill. Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has already declared his opposition, but Sharon Rocha — mother of Laci Peterson and grandmother of Conner — has publicly implored him to reconsider. In a letter to Kerry, Rocha said, “This is a question not only of severity, but of justice. … there were two bodies that washed up in San Francisco Bay, and the law should recognize that reality.”

Soon, Kerry and every other senator will vote to determine whether unborn children such as Amber Denise Huff and Michael James Lenz III, when they die at the hands of terrorist bombers, drug lords or interstate stalkers, are unborn victims — or nobody at all.

Johnson is the legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, in Washington.

Categories: Two Victims