Originally created 04/03/02

Case is support for new fetal law



AIKEN - Attorney Brian Katonak's client, who four years earlier went into premature labor because of a beating, waited nervously Tuesday outside Aiken Family Court.

A judge was about to decide whether her child's father, who was convicted of criminal domestic violence after knocking the mother to the ground and kicking her, would ever again have parental rights to the child.

The judge quickly ruled against the father, who had never faced charges for causing the premature birth of his child.

Today, the child struggles to breathe and must be monitored.

Mr. Katonak and his client, whose name cannot be released because the case is sealed by the courts, want the ruling to serve as a catalyst for the rights of unborn children.

"When is a child a child?" Mr. Katonak asked.

According to pending state and federal legislation, an unborn child is a person "at every stage of gestation in utero, from conception until live birth."

Lawmakers at the state and federal level are working to pass laws that would make it a felony to harm a fetus, punishable by up to five years in prison. Such laws already exist in several other states, noted U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C..

The bill Mr. Graham is sponsoring, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, has passed the House but has stalled in the Senate, he said.

"It would make sure that people who attack pregnant women get the book thrown at them," Mr. Graham said.

Another bill before the South Carolina Senate, the Unborn Victims Act, closely parallels Mr. Graham's bill. It hasn't been discussed on the floor since it was introduced last year, but a similar bill passed the House last year.

The Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons sees about 50 women a year who are pregnant and have been abused, Executive Director Kay Mixon said. The effects of domestic violence are escalated by pregnancy, she added.

"When the fetus is affected by abuse, the child is born very stressed," Ms. Mixon said.

Holly Gatling, the executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, is lobbying for the state legislation. She contends that critics of the legislation are supporters of abortion rights who fear the bill will threaten the logic behind Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.