Protect your child or go to prison: It’s a choice that no mom should have to make

Antonio Pena believed in the right to choose – his own right, anyway. In 1999, Pena chose to drive his fist into Jaclyn Kurr’s abdomen. Kurr reminded her boyfriend that she was pregnant with quadruplets and, after a second punch, warned him not to do it again. He doesn’t seem to have taken her warning too seriously, though.

That probably changed when she stabbed him.

At her manslaughter trial, Kurr argued that killing Pena was justified by the need to protect their children. The judge didn’t agree. Although Michigan law does permit the use of deadly force to defend the lives of others, Judge Richard Lyon Lamb declared that “there are no others” in this case. Because the fetuses “would have only been sixteen or seventeen weeks in gestation at the time of the stabbing,” Judge Lamb felt that none of them could be considered “a living human being.” Jaclyn Kurr was subsequently convicted and given a five- to twenty-five-year prison sentence.

Kurr’s conviction got reversed on appeal, with the court ruling that a mother can defend a child in her womb even when her own life isn’t in danger. But while that’s now the law in Michigan, it’s not true in a lot of other states. As a result, women can be forced to choose between defending their children and going to prison.

The scenario isn’t just a hypothetical one, as pregnant women are frequently targeted for violence. That often happens when they resist a partner’s demand to have an abortion, and attackers can quickly escalate from throwing punches to using guns, knives, explosives, gasoline, and blunt objects. It’s not surprising then that the CDC lists homicide as a leading cause of death during pregnancy.

In 2008, Americans United for Life drafted a model bill called the Pregnant Women’s Protection Act. The legislation specifies that a woman may use whatever force is needed to protect her preborn baby from criminal violence. Earlier this year, a version of it was introduced by South Carolina state senator Katrina Shealy.

Although Sen. Shealy’s effort was unsuccessful, we need to make it clear that this issue isn’t going away. After all, the right to defend your child is among the most basic. Expectant moms shouldn’t be punished for exercising it.

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