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Abortion foes knock Repp bill focus

A debate over recognizing fetuses as human beings dominated a Friday hearing on the state Senate bill named for murder victim Kerry Repp.

The Senate Rules Committee brought a discussion on Senate Bill 712 to Ashland. If passed, the bill would enhance penalties for violence against pregnant women and make the murderer of a pregnant woman subject to the death penalty. Repp's parents, Ron and JoeAnn Johnson, of Medford, spoke in support of the bill, authored by Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, a Portland Democrat.

If it saves one woman and one child, that's worth it, said Ron Johnson.

Kerry Michele Repp, 29, was murdered in her Central Point home on May 4, 2002. Repp was three months pregnant with another man's child when she was shot to death with her husband's handgun. Repp's husband, Gary Marvin Repp Jr., was acquitted of murder in March last year.

But opponents of the bill pointed to the Johnsons' grief at the loss of their seventh grandchild in arguing for human being status for fetuses. Pending House and Senate bills ' supported by Republican legislators ' would create separate crimes committed against unborn children.

— At the moment of conception, this child is separate, said Sue Ann Arnold, of Eagle Point.

Arnold and nine others, including Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee, voiced their support for Senate Bill 440 or House Bill 220. Platt called Brown's bill merely an attempt to placate Oregonians.

Present at Friday's hearing, Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, sponsored Senate Bill 440, saying it has more teeth than Brown's bill. Republican Reps. Dennis Richardson, Central Point, and Sal Esquivel, Medford, sponsored the almost identical House version.

Medford defense attorney Lisa Greif also voiced opposition on behalf of the Oregon Defense Lawyers Association because Senate Bill 712 expands the state's capital punishment laws.

Yet the vast majority of enhanced prosecutions under Brown's bill would be for assault, said Clatsop County District Attorney Joshua Marquis, addressing the committee by phone. Oregon prosecutors are constantly frustrated that justice doesn't adequately serve pregnant victims, Marquis said, calling Senate Bill 712 an achievable protection that simply doesn't exist now.

JoeAnn Johnson said after the hearing that she could see good in both legislative efforts but worried a debate about fetuses' rights would snarl the effort to increase penalties for crimes against pregnant women.

That's the whole fear ... that no one's going to get anything done, she said.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemonat 776-4487, or e-mail .