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Bill would extend current homicide law to cover fetuses

By Bruce Schreiner

The Courier-Journal

Thursday, February 6, 2003

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Flanked by photos of babies killed in vehicle crashes, a group of legislators launched a new push yesterday to create a crime of ""fetal homicide.""

They are sponsoring bills under which Kentucky's homicide statutes would extend to fetuses, starting at fertilization. Under current law, a fetus is not considered a person until the live birth occurs.

An abortion-rights activist says the effort is part of a strategy to undermine women's access to abortion.

The House's Caleb-Haley Act memorializes two babies stillborn as a result of vehicle crashes. A companion bill in the Senate has passed previously. The legislation has never gotten through the House.

""My happiness is gone, but to have this bill passed would bring a little peace of mind,"" said Troy Thornsbury, whose pregnant wife and her fetus were killed when a man, who police said was impaired by drugs, ran a red light and rammed their car in Pike County.

The Thornsburys were headed to a Pikeville hospital for the delivery at the time. The infant was later named Haley Natasha Thornsbury.

Ralph Denham Jr., whose unborn baby died in a car crash in Lincoln County three days past the due date, said he believed photos on display in the Capitol Rotunda refuted the reasoning of Kentucky's courts.

""These are babies, I don't care what anybody says,"" Denham said, choking back tears. ""They are humans.""

Denham and his wife, Leah, were struck from behind by a driver allegedly under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash. Their baby, Caleb, was delivered by Caesarean section but never took a breath.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said the families are ""crying out for justice.""

Lee also displayed a picture of a mare in foal to a champion stallion that brought $4 million at a Keeneland sale. The mare's pregnancy was noted on a toteboard at the auction ring.

""The tragedy is, in this state, we as a society under current Kentucky law have placed a greater value on the lives of unborn horses than on the lives of unborn babies,"" he said.

Democratic Rep. Keith Hall of Pikeville, a co-sponsor of the bill, said 34 states have given legal recognition to the unborn, including five border states. He said support for the bill crosses party lines. ""This is not a political issue, it's a moral issue,"" he said.

The bill would not allow prosecution of abortion doctors.

Still, an abortion-rights activist said the bill was part of a strategy to undermine women's access to the procedure.

""It makes no logical sense to say that a fertilized egg is equal to a person in this part of the law,"" said Beth Wilson with the reproductive rights section of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. ""It's just a small step, if we do it here, to move on to other things.""

Wilson said lawmakers should instead toughen criminal penalties for people who harm expectant women and cause them to lose their pregnancies.

Such action would ""recognize that the pregnant woman is the victim of this, that she's the one that suffers the loss,"" Wilson said.

The legislation -- House Bill 29 and Senate Bill 41 -- also would offer exemptions to health-care professionals and to the pregnant women themselves.

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