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Friday, May 3, 2013

Ethen’s Law: Ensuring Justice for Unborn Victims of Violence

In 2011, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed an Unborn Victims of Violence Act, becoming the 26th state to have legislation fully protecting unborn babies who suffer injury or death due to violence. The law is also known as Ethen’s Law; in 2007, Jenna Nielsen was 8 ½ months pregnant with Ethen when she was brutally stabbed to death outside a convenience store. Although the case has yet to be solved, should her attacker ever come to trial he could not be charged for the baby’s death. Since the passage of Ethen’s Law, however, anyone who injures or kills a mother and her unborn child, even without prior knowledge of a pregnancy, can be charged with two crimes. 

The law, which took effect in December 2011, has since ensured justice for several unborn victims. The first conviction came quickly; in January 2012, Mark Anthony Cox pleaded guilty to the double murder of Danielle Watson and her baby and is now serving two life sentences in prison. Watson, who was two months pregnant at the time, was engaged to be married. Her fiancé Keith Smith was excited about being a husband and father. Without Ethen’s Law, his son would not have been recognized as an additional victim of Cox’s attack.

In an ongoing trial, Tina Louise Bailey has been charged with the murder of an infant who was stillborn in July 2012. Bailey advertised herself as a midwife; however, she is not certified in North Carolina, which requires all midwives to receive master’s level training and to pass a national certification exam. The mother reportedly labored for four days under Bailey’s care before going to a hospital, where her baby was stillborn. Bailey has been charged for falsely presenting herself as a midwife as well as for obstruction of justice. Under Ethen’s Law, she has also been charged with murder.

On May 1, 2013, Lance Powers pleaded guilty to a plethora of charges related to his October car crash that resulted in the death of his girlfriend and numerous injuries to others involved, including the unborn child of another driver. Mary Fontana was seven months pregnant when Powers’ vehicle crashed into hers. She and her children were all fine, but doctors were worried about her unborn child because of the bruising she sustained. Because of this, Powers was found guilty of battery on an unborn child. Fortunately, baby Breleigh is now four months old and in good health.

The most recent example of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act at work happened just last month. On April 18, Guanghui Lei of Greensboro allegedly shot and killed his wife and sister, who was in her second trimester. Lei has since been arrested and charged with the murders of the two women and the unborn child.

The tragedy of these crimes makes the importance of Ethen’s Law clear. When a mother or her unborn child is a victim of violence, the perpetrator should be tried for the injury of both. The families of these women and their unborn children are grateful that each are considered victims under the law. Without laws like the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, assaults on the unborn go unpunished and criminals receive lighter sentences than they deserve. As unfortunate as it is that such laws need to exist, North Carolinians should be glad to know that their state recognizes and protects the unborn victims of violence as such. 

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