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Legislators will push law recognizing 'unborn children' in murder cases such as Kerry Repp's

Legislators will push law recognizing 'unborn children' in murder cases such as Kerry Repp's —

SALEM ' The sponsor of a bill that would have made killing a pregnant woman a crime of double murder said the legislation will not be heard this session, despite renewed attention on the issue brought by the Laci Peterson case in California.

But Rep. Gordon Anderson, R-Grants Pass, vows to reintroduce Kerry's Law in 2005. It's time for us to begin protecting unborn children.

The bill is named after 29-year-old Central Point resident Kerry Repp, who was found dead in her home May 4, 2002. She was three months' pregnant. Her husband, Gary Repp Jr., has been charged with her murder and faces life in prison.

A similar case surfaced in California last month, when the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn child washed up from San Francisco Bay. Her husband, Scott Peterson, was charged with double murder under a California law that protects unborn victims of crimes. Similar laws exist in 25 other states, including Washington.

— Anderson's legislation, House Bill 3503, revives a controversial issue between anti-abortion and abortion rights forces by defining a human embryo or fetus as a person. In the death of a pregnant woman, then, prosecutors could charge her murderer with two counts. In Oregon, killing more than one victim elevates the charge to aggravated murder, which can be punishable by death.

Anderson introduced his bill in February, but it has languished in the House Ways and Means Committee.

He said the House leadership, including Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, wants to focus on Public Employees Retirement System reform and the budget crisis this session.

They asked me to back off on this issue, he said. It won't come up this year.

So-called feticide laws are controversial. Those supporting it are often anti-abortion advocates who say such laws provide an opportunity to protect mothers and unborn children.

But abortion rights activists say fetal homicide bills are not about domestic violence.

The intent, pure and simple, is to undermine Roe v. Wade, says Maura Roche, a lobbyist representing Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon.

The Roe v. Wade decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 legalized abortion in this country.

This bill does not bring the victims back, she said. I would like to see the Legislature demand that we provide funding for preventive services.

She said one out of six pregnant women is a victim of assault.

Some states have adopted enhanced penalties for crimes against pregnant women without declaring the fetus a person. Asked if Planned Parenthood could support that approach, Roche replied, The devil is in the details. I would have to see the (bill's) construction.

Among the sponsors of HB 3503 is Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point. He said Anderson asked him to sign on to the measure.

I was responding to the terrible loss that the (Repp) family has suffered, said Richardson. Other sponsors include legislators pushing a package of anti-abortion bills earlier in the session.

All but one of those bills has been shelved. An informed-consent measure passed the House but probably will die in the Senate.

Peter Sage, a Medford resident and member of the Southern Oregon Planned Parenthood board of directors, said his board has not taken a position on the bill.

But if a bill such as Anderson's calls an embryo a living person, he asked, then does that make an IUD a murder weapon?

JoeAnn and Ron Johnson of Medford support a proposed state bill that would make killing a pregnant woman a crime of double murder. Their daughter, Kerry Repp, was murdered a year ago this month. She was three months? pregnant. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell