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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Desperation’ prevails once again

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–A Virginia judge Oct. 19 dismissed charges against a 22-year-old woman who shot herself in the stomach in order to kill her unborn child. The judge ruled that the law did not make it a crime for a mother to cause her own abortion.

The woman, whose pregnancy was well into the third trimester, said she was experiencing contractions when she placed a gun against her abdomen and pulled the trigger. She immediately called 911.

Under Virginia law “any person” that administers or causes an illegal abortion is criminally liable. Without special medical circumstances, terminating a pregnancy in the third trimester is unlawful in the Old Dominion State. Hence, the woman was charged with causing an illegal abortion. In certain states she could have been charged with murder.

The defense argued that “any person” did not include the mother. Amazingly, the court agreed. But while the case seemed to hinge on the language of the state statute, it actually turned on the defense attorney’s insistence that his client was a woman who had acted out of desperation.

In a written statement the woman, who has two children, repeatedly described her situation as desperate. She claimed that her boyfriend would not pay for an abortion. Further, she said he was verbally abusive. According to reports the woman wrote, “I felt I did not have any choices.”

Of course the Virginia woman was desperate. How else can you explain what she did? However, it is outrageous that the judge bought the desperation defense and found a way to justify her actions by defining the word “any” so that it applies to everyone but the pregnant mother.

The Virginia case is not the first time the desperation defense has prevailed. More and more defense attorneys are utilizing it. They employ it subtly, if not overtly.

The desperation defense attempts to get the judge or jury to sympathize with the defendant’s situation. Once accomplished, the defense attorney will ask, “Can’t you understand why my client acted the way he or she did?” The shrewd lawyer will then add, “Who is to say that you would not have done the same thing given the same set of circumstances?”

While there is no doubt that the Virginia woman’s action was extreme, it is not unique. At least two other women, one in Florida and another in Georgia, killed their unborn children in similar fashion. And like the woman in Virginia, both were acquitted of any wrongdoing. Of course, they were desperate.

It could be argued that much of the crime that is committed in a society is done so because of desperation.

A man desperate for money robs a convenience store. A woman desperate to make ends meet turns to prostitution. A CEO is desperate for his company to make a profit so he cooks the books. A student desperate to have good grades steals a test. A parent, overwhelmed and desperate, takes the life of his or her children.

Can a society really afford to dismiss any aberrant behavior, criminal or otherwise, because the person was motivated by desperation?

While the desperation defense is, at least, suggested in many cases, it seems it rarely is effective except in cases where a mother takes the life of her unborn baby.

Tragically, the abortion culture has eroded respect for unborn children to the point that they now are viewed by many as an inconvenient intrusion rather than an overwhelming blessing.

There are other women who have found themselves in the same circumstance as the woman in Virginia. And I am sure that at least a few have felt some measure of desperation. However, most of them did not turn to abortion in any shape, form or fashion. They considered the well-being of their unborn child and opted for adoption.

While it is tragic that the woman in Virginia went to extreme measures to kill her unborn child, the tragedy is compounded by the judge’s willingness to dismiss her charges due to desperation.

Desperation is never an adequate defense for taking the life of an innocent and defenseless human being, even if that human has yet to be born.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each Friday in Baptist Press, is editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message.

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