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Laci Peterson family endorses 'unborn victims' bill

Bill currently is known as Unborn Victims of Violence Act

From Kate Snow
CNN Washington Bureau

Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared.
Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared.

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A bill that would allow violent crimes against a pregnant woman to be treated as crimes against two separate people is getting renewed attention on Capitol Hill. CNN's Kate Snow reports (May 8)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The family of Laci Peterson Wednesday endorsed a bill being introduced on Capitol Hill that would allow a violent crime against a pregnant woman to be treated as crimes against two separate people.

Currently, 26 states have similar laws on the books and 24 states do not. The proposed bill would not override existing state laws but instead would apply only to federal cases.

Twice, in 1999 and 2001, the Republican-led House of Representatives approved the legislation, but it has not passed the Senate.

California has such a law and Scott Peterson already has been charged with two murders in that case. But there is no law governing such offenses should they occur on federal property -- such as a military base or federal buildings.

Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared Christmas Eve, prompting a nationwide search. Her body and the fetus of her unborn son, Connor, were found four months later.

"As the family of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Connor, this bill is very close to our hearts," the Rochas, Laci Peterson's family, wrote in a letter to the bill's Republican co-sponsors, Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pennsylvania, and Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio.

"During these past two weeks we have considered various ways we could pay tribute to Laci and Connor. When we heard about this bill, we immediately thought of placing a request to have it named Laci and Connor's law in their memory. Knowing that perpetrators who murder pregnant women will pay the price not only for the loss of the mother, but the baby as well, will help bring justice for these victims and hopefully act as a deterrent to those considering heinous acts," the letter concludes.

It is signed by Sharon Rocha, Laci's mother, Ron Grantski, Laci's stepfather, her brother Brent Rocha, sister Amy Rocha and father Dennis Rocha.

The bill currently is known as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

Senate sponsors say they're pushing the bill again now in part because so much attention has focused on the Peterson case.

"That tells the story better than we've been able to tell the story," DeWine said. He also pointed out that violence against pregnant women happens "every week" but few cases generate the kind of media attention that Laci Peterson's case has drawn.

Fast track to Senate floor

DeWine said he's hopeful that this time the Senate will pass the legislation. He and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, are trying to put the bill on a fast track to the Senate floor without putting it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it might bog down.

But the bill is controversial. Much of the opposition to it comes from lawmakers who favor abortion rights. Some abortion rights activists see the measure as a back door to influencing the abortion debate because the law would define a fetus as a separate life.

Opponents say supporters of the legislation are using the Rochas.

"They are cynically and opportunistically trying to exploit this tragedy," said one Democratic consultant aligned with the opposition. "It's not a new bill. They're recycling old stuff."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, admitted that the measure could have an impact on abortion law.

"They say it undermines abortion rights. It does undermine it," he said. "But that's irrelevant. We're concerned here about a woman and her child. ... The partisan arguments over abortion should not stop a bill that protects women and children."

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