Social issues


Issue: "Year in Review 2003," Dec. 27, 2003

How many victims?

In April, police in San Diego, Calif., arrested Scott Peterson on suspicion of the Modesto murder of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Connor. It's not the first time courts have dealt with the question of whether an unborn child is a person whose life is protected under law-just one of the most attention-getting. Prosecutors charged Mr. Peterson with double murder, a "special circumstances" charge under the California Penal Code, and one that opens the possibility that the accused, if convicted, could be sentenced to death.

But the case also presented special circumstances for pro-abortion groups. Pro-abortion spokespersons found themselves having to defend the notion that Connor, though he was a viable 8-month baby, could not have been "murdered" because his mother hadn't yet given birth when she was killed. In May, Los Angeles radio host Warren Olney asked Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt three times whether there was one Peterson victim or two; Ms. Feldt finally acknowledged that she felt Laci Peterson was the only victim in the case. Mr. Peterson maintains his innocence, by both the legal system's definition and Planned Parenthood's.

We see you’ve been enjoying the content on our exclusive member website. Ready to get unlimited access to all of WORLD’s member content?
Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.
(Don’t worry. It only takes a sec—and you don’t have to give us payment information right now.)

Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.

Gangster no more

In a ringing 8-to-1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court in February ended a pro-life legal battle that had spanned more than a decade. The high court reversed a lower court decision in National Organization for Women (NOW) vs. Scheidler, a 1998 ruling that held pro-life activist Joseph Scheidler and other pro-life activists liable for racketeering and extortion. First filed in 1986, the case became a roller-coaster legal odyssey that ultimately resulted in a $257,000 judgment against Mr. Scheidler and his co-defendants-and a federal injunction that chilled pro-life free speech outside abortion clinics nationwide. But the Supremes ruled in February that protesters who do not "obtain property" cannot be punished for extortion under the federal Racketeering-Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The court's reversal lifted both the injunction and the racketeer label from Mr. Scheidler and his co-defendants.

"Pro-life" bomber?

In May, authorities in Murphy, N.C., nabbed suspected abortion-clinic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph, who had for five years eluded capture. Mr. Rudolph was wanted in connection with a 1998 clinic bombing in Birmingham, Ala., which killed an off-duty police officer and critically wounded a nurse. He is also accused in three other bombings, including one that targeted an Atlanta abortion clinic. In December, Attorney General John Ashcroft authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty in the Birmingham case.

"End of all morals legislation"

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the Texas law prohibiting sodomy. In Lawrence vs. Texas, homosexuals John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner had challenged the law, which banned "deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex." Austin officials defended the law on the grounds that it reflected the community standards of their state. But gay-rights groups argued that the state could not criminalize actions by homosexual couples that were permitted for heterosexual couples, and the high court agreed. Justice Antonin Scalia, so incensed that he read aloud his dissent from the bench, predicted the ruling would mark the "end of all morals legislation" and leave traditional marriage laws on "pretty shaky grounds."

Unbanned in Boston

Justice Scalia was right: In November, traditional marriage laws in Massachusetts gave way as the State Supreme Court ruled that laws favoring heterosexual marriage are unconstitutional. The decision in Goodrich vs. The Massachusetts Department of Health was a sweeping victory for homosexual activists who had sought liberal courts in which to advance the notion of gay marriage. The Massachusetts justices compared laws restricting gay marriage to those that once prohibited interracial marriage, and rejected them as "arbitrarily [depriving homosexuals] of membership in one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions." The ruling sparked immediate congressional action: Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on Nov. 26 introduced a resolution that would amend the U.S. Constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) in March introduced a similar amendment in the House.

Saved by the bill

In Pinellas County, Fla., Terri Schiavo in October slipped toward death after a judge enforced a ruling that Mrs. Schiavo's husband could order her feeding tube removed. But 11th-hour action by her parents, pro-life activists and attorneys, and state legislators saved Mrs. Schiavo from death by starvation. In 1989, at age 29, Mrs. Schiavo suffered a heart attack that left her severely brain damaged. In 1992, her husband, Michael Schiavo, won for her a medical malpractice judgment of nearly $2 million. But after convincing a jury he would use the money to rehabilitate his wife, he instead took up with another woman and used the money to hire right-to-die attorney George Felos to end his wife's life. On Oct. 15, workers removed Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube, and for six days she slipped toward death. But Florida lawmakers produced legislation dubbed "Terri's Bill" authorizing Gov. Jeb Bush to order doctors to reinsert her feeding tube, which lets her live-for now.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Life with Lyme

    For long-term Lyme patients, treatment is a matter of…