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The Choices of NOW
by Michael Nevin, Jr.
2 May 2003

In the Laci Peterson case, NOW had to pick which one of its agendas it would support, while downplaying its other because it interfered. What's amusing is it couldn't even accomplish promotion of the agenda it chose.

District Attorney Jim Brazelton, of Stanislaus County, California, has decided to seek the death penalty against Scott Peterson under the special circumstances statute in the multiple murders of Laci and Connor Peterson.  This case has opened up a much publicized debate across the nation regarding the question of whether or not Connor qualifies as a murder victim.
Marva Stark, the Morris County (New Jersey) chapter president of the National Organization of Women, asked, ''Was it born or unborn?  If it was unborn, then I can't see charging [Scott Peterson] with a double-murder.''
While Marva Stark is facing a conundrum, the 2003 California Penal Code is specific regarding the law. Penal Code section 187 (a) states that murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.  187 (b) specifies when the law does not apply, including therapeutic abortion or in the case of 187 (b) (3):  the act was solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus.  After the landmark case, Keeler v. Superior Court of Amador County (1970), California revised its murder statute to include fetuses.  The California Supreme Court later held in 1994 that fetuses were covered in the murder statute if they were past the embryonic period of 7-8 weeks.
Some liberals see this case as a threat to their most sacred tenet: abortion.   However, the law in California specifically protects abortion.  One would assume that representatives of the National Organization of Women would rather center the attention of the Peterson case on domestic violence, but this is not the first time NOW has taken a controversial stand in a high profile case. 
Tammy Bruce, former Los Angeles, California chapter president of NOW, discussed her frustration with national NOW in her book, ''The New Thought Police.''   During the 1995 O. J.  Simpson double-murder case, Bruce was determined to keep the focus on domestic violence but faced harsh criticism.  Bruce writes, ''Three women in the United States die every day at the hands of a boyfriend, ex-husband, or husband.  I was determined that their plight not be eclipsed by Johnnie Cochran's (Simpson's attorney) false and exploitative racist rhetoric.''  National NOW publicly censured Bruce for ''racially insensitive statements.''  Bruce asserted, ''I had hoped that all this national media exposure would engender a new commitment to actual feminist policies.  It did not happen.''
On June 20, 2001, Andrea Yates drowned her five children in Texas.  The Texas chapter of NOW formed a defense fund to raise money for the Yates trial.  ''Right now we're just giving out information about the defense fund,'' said Deborah Bell of Houston (NOW).  ''We're trying to bring attention to this issue and attention to the fund.''  Yates was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison.   NOW succeeded in bringing attention to the disputatious priorities of the organization.   
Some people don't see the Peterson case as a dichotomy between murder charges and abortion rights.  Laci Peterson made a choice to have a baby, whom she already named, prior to her death.  Laci and Connor Peterson were brutally murdered and they deserve justice.  The family of those victims deserves more from organizations like NOW, who appear only concerned with abortion rights.  Although Scott Peterson will never be the poster child for NOW, their stand against the double-murder charge, if it had merit, would prevent him from being eligible for the death penalty.  However, anything less than a double-murder charge would be an egregious injustice. 
A civil society must protect its most vulnerable citizens or risk becoming barbaric.  The focus of any homicide case should be about the victims, the totality of the circumstances, and prosecution of the offenders.  The focus of NOW should be revisited.

Michael Nevin is a California law enforcement officer.

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