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Inside Politics

Fetus protection law draws high-profile support

Laci Peterson's family joins Bush at bill signing

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

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Bush signs bill into law
Laci Peterson
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Unborn Victims of Violence Act that President Bush signed into law this week means different things to different people.

Was it about crime, or was it about abortion? The answer isn't clear. What's clear though, is that it was the political Play of the Week.

Sponsors of the legislation insisted it was about crime.

"The legislation simply changes federal law and allows for prosecution of two crimes against two victims," said Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pennsylvania.

That brings to mind a sensational murder case being prosecuted in California.

"You only have to look at the tragic case that is occurring right now in California, the Laci Peterson case," Sen. Michael DeWine, R-Ohio, said last month as he voiced his support for the bill.

Under California law, Scott Peterson has been charged with two murders -- against his wife Laci and their unborn son Conner.

Laci's mother championed the cause of making the killing of an unborn child a federal crime.

"There were two people who washed up on the beach at that time. And one was Laci and the other was her son Conner," said Sharon Rocha.

Bush agreed this week, when he signed the new law.

"All who knew Laci Peterson have mourned two deaths," he said . "And the law cannot look away and pretend there was just one."

Critics argued there was another agenda here -- abortion.

"Once in a statute you create a fertilized egg as a human being with specific rights, the march to eliminate Roe v. Wade is on its way," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, in a speech last month on the Senate floor.

If it becomes a crime to murder an unborn child, why isn't a crime to abort an unborn child?

"They're trying to make this about abortion, not about convicting a criminal," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California.

Nonsense, supporters said. Abortion requires the mother's consent.

"This is not about abortion," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. "Under no circumstances can you prosecute the mother."

What clinched their case was a threat from Laci's mother.

"Politicians say Conner was not really the victim of a crime," said Rocha. "They need to think long and hard about whether or not they really want to say that. If Laci and Conner's law is not enacted this year, I will keep fighting for it. I will not hesitate to explain the issue to their voters."

It worked. The crime issue trumped the abortion issue.

For the Peterson family, it's the political Play of the Week.

Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, voted against the bill. Bush signed it into law. That means we're likely to hear more about this issue in the presidential campaign.

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