WASHINGTON (BP)–Another blow in the mounting battle over legal protection for unborn children was struck recently in a South Carolina courtroom.
In Conway, S.C., Regina McKnight, 23, became the first woman in the country to be convicted by a jury of murdering her unborn baby by smoking crack cocaine, according to a report in The State, a Columbia, S.C., newspaper. The jury took only 15 minutes May 15 to convict McKnight of homicide by child abuse, and Circuit Judge James Brogdon sentenced her to 12 years in prison, according to news reports.
Prosecution of McKnight was decided upon based on a 1997 opinion by the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled an unborn child able to live outside the womb is a person with legal rights, according to the report in The State. She was arrested in 1999 after cocaine was found in the body of her stillborn girl, Mercedes, the paper reported.
There was “chronic abuse of crack cocaine” throughout the pregnancy, and “there was the fact of the age of the fetus, at 8 1/2 months,” prosecutor Greg Hembree said, according to the report. Hembree said he might not have prosecuted “if it had been in that sort of borderline area of 24 to 28 weeks.”
The case was not related to the abortion issue, Hembree said. “The pro-choice folks, to them, the sky is falling,” he said, according to the report. “Anytime there’s a step in any direction toward making an unborn child a legal entity, they run around like Chicken Little.”
An abortion rights advocate said South Carolina’s policy in recent years of prosecuting women whose drug abuse harms their children is related to abortion.
The state’s policy is part of “a concerted effort by anti-choice activists to establish fetal rights in any area of law possible, in hopes that eventually you would have so many areas of law that define a fetus as a person that you would ultimately have to overturn Roe vs. Wade,” said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, based in New York, according to the report.
Only two days after McKnight’s May 15 sentencing, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 88-15 in favor of the Unborn Victims Act, according to a report on Pro-life Infonet. The bill would increase penalties for people who kill or injure an unborn child during an assault against a pregnant woman. The measure would apply from conception until birth.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved similar legislation in late April. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act would criminalize violence resulting in injury or death to an unborn child when it is committed during a federal offense against a pregnant woman. Under the bill, a person convicted of injuring or killing a child would be guilty of the same crime that would result from injury or death to the mother. Twenty-four states already have similar laws.