Public defender and opposition spokeswoman want stiffer penalties for those who kill pregnant women
Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Touched by the murders of three expectant mothers in six days, Jamaica's public defender and a senior legislator are calling for the enacting of laws specifically addressing the killing of pregnant women.
In a missive sent to Justice Minister Mark Golding, Earl Witter, the public defender, argued that the laws now on the books are woefully inadequate and are not stern enough to combat the murders involving expectant mothers.
"Of course, all unlawful killings will arouse concern, grief and mourning. But the killing of pregnant women, which leads to or causes the death of an unborn child, represents a species of depravity that offends all notions and standards of basic decency and morality," said Witter.
He continued: "At present, however, the offender may only be charged with murder ... . The fact of a victim's pregnancy appears to be regarded as a mere egregious incident of the offence. "
Witter noted that, under the present laws, to cause the death of a child while it is still in its mother's womb is not considered murdering the unborn child.
Such deaths, he stated, are merely features of the crime of which account may be taken at sentencing.
"This is so, you will know, because the common law requires that the murder victim be "a reasonable creature in being", a child in the womb (or perhaps even in the process of being born) not being so regarded. Otherwise, the law is silent on the matter. This situation is both untenable and unacceptable," said Witter.
He argued that the "law should therefore specifically proscribe such conduct and award a severe sanction".
Witter told the justice minister that the United Kingdom Infant Life (Preservation) Act, 1929 afforded a helpful precedent.
"Under that statute, a person who by any wilful act (e.g., shooting a pregnant woman) 'with intent to destroy the life of a child capable of being born alive', causes the child to die before it has an existence independent of its mother, commits the felony of child destruction. The offender is liable upon conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life."
Witter also told the justice minister that enacting the child destruction legislation would not outlaw legal abortions, that is, those performed in good faith for the purpose only of preserving the life of the mother.
Witter further argued that the passing of the proposed child destruction law was "an appropriate societal response to a phenomenon which requires deterrent action".
Meanwhile, Opposition Spokesperson on Youth, Sports, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Culture Olivia 'Babsy' Grange said the shooting deaths of the three pregnant women, two of whom were eight to nine months pregnant, are glaring examples of the low level to which respect for life and humanity has descended in the society.
She argued that there is a need to make the murder of pregnant women, especially those whose foetus is already at the point of viability, capital murder, in light of the fact that it is the murder of two human beings capable of existing as separate individuals.
"I hope that my call is not interpreted as being anti-abortion, which I am not, but I am convinced that Jamaica must introduce more severe legislation to protect the right to life of the matured foetus, as well as the mother," said Grange in a statement issued last Friday.