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West Virginia Governor Signs Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

When pro-life Governor Joe Manchin (D) signed "Christy and Ashley's Law," West Virginia joined 30 states and the federal government in recognizing unborn children as separate victims of crime.

"This bill is about putting bad people in jail who do horrible things to pregnant women...and the children they are carrying," state Senator Jeff Kessler (D) remarked during the March 28 ceremony in which Gov. Manchin signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (Senate Bill 146).

"The legislation was signed into law because, in 2004, West Virginia elected for the first time a pro-life Democratic governor completing our successes in recent years of electing an overwhelmingly pro-life legislature," said Wanda Franz, Ph.D., president of NRLC and West Virginia's representative on the NRLC board of directors. "This is a far different situation from just a few years ago, when either a pro-abortion leadership in the legislature would derail pro-life legislation or when a pro-abortion governor would veto such legislation."

Dr. Franz added, "These are the fruits of patient work at the grassroots level of identifying and informing pro-life voters."

The Democratically controlled legislature sent a strong message to criminals who would injure or kill pregnant women and their unborn children. The Senate approved the measure 32-2, the first bill passed by the Senate during the 2005 legislative session. The House of Delegates adopted the bill by a vote of 81-17 and sent it to the governor.

The law is named for Christy and Ashley Alberts of Charleston. Christy was nearly nine months pregnant when she was shot execution style, killing both her and her unborn daughter, whom she had already named Ashley Nicole.

The Alberts family was devastated to learn that no murder charges would be filed on behalf of little Ashley. In fact, because West Virginia did not have a fetal homicide law, Ashley was not recognized as a victim at all. It was forbidden to even mention Christy's pregnancy during the trial of the murderers.

"Ashley was a little human being just like you and me," a tearful Stephanie Alberts, Christy's mother and Ashley's grandmother, told reporters at the bill signing. "And to be told she didn't exist. ...I buried Ashley in my daughter's arms. She was real."

(For further details on the Alberts case and other accounts of two-victim crimes, including powerful photographs, go to http://www.nrlc.org/Unborn_victims/Two_Victims/index.html)

Senate Bill 146 was sponsored by 27 of the 34 senators, including Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) and lead sponsor Senator Jeff Kessler (D), chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee. Delegate Tim Ennis (D) was the lead sponsor of the House bill.

Pro-abortion legislators in the House of Delegates attempted to gut the bill with a "single-victim" substitute. This amendment would have increased the penalties for attacking a pregnant woman but it would not have recognized the unborn child as a separate victim before viability.

But WVFL, the only organization actively working to pass a true unborn victims law, beat back the ploy. WVFL is the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee.

"West Virginians for Life staff spent a great deal of time educating legislators, the media, and the public about the need for this important legislation," said Brian Louk, WVFL development coordinator. "We strongly opposed the single-victim doctrine, because when an unborn child is killed in a criminal attack, the family mourns the death of that child. They do not view it simply as an additional injury to the mother."

"For far too long, gaps in state law have denied justice to families who have had their unborn children killed or injured at the hands of a criminal," added Melissa Adkins. "Now that Governor Manchin has signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act into law, a mother who loses her child to a brutal attacker in West Virginia will no longer be told that her baby didn't exist in the eyes of the law."

Karen Cross, WVFL executive director, shared the tragic story of a young mother. "I've spoken to another victim whose boyfriend beat her in the abdomen intending to kill her child because she refused to have an abortion," she said. "The only charges she could file were for battery for herself, yet her baby is dead."

Cross concluded, "West Virginia law now sees the baby Ashleys in our state as victims and will punish their assailants accordingly."

On April 1, 2004, President Bush signed into law the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which had been strongly backed by National Right to Life. This new law recognizes unborn children as full-fledged legal victims when they are injured or killed during the commission of federal crimes. However, since most crimes of violence are covered by state rather than federal laws, it is vital that each state also enact its own strong unborn victims law.

Currently, 31 states recognize unborn children as crime victims in at least some circumstances. Of these, 19 (including the new West Virginia law) apply through pre-natal development, while the others recognize unborn victims at certain stages of development.

For further information, NRLC's web site contains the Internet's most extensive source of information on unborn victims of violence, including details of the state and federal laws, at http://www.nrlc.org/Unborn_victims/Two_Victims/index.html
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Title Annotation:Christy and Ashley's Law,"; Unborn Victims of Violence Act,
Publication:National Right to Life News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
Words:885
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