The website justice4jenna.org describes "an amazing and wonderful" young woman who was a "talented pianist, dancer and singer." The site's photo gallery shows a series of pictures of Jenna Nielsen, 22, as playful and humorous – someone who obviously relished in being a wife and mother.
Jenna was expecting the birth of her third child, Ethen, with whom she was eight months pregnant, when tragically on June 14 some unknown assailant murdered her while she restocked USA Today newspaper vending machines in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Now her family not only seeks justice by offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the identification, arrests, and conviction of her killer, but also by pressuring legislators to change state law to recognize the death of unborn children as separate victims of similar crimes.
Unfortunately, North Carolina is one of only 14 states that do not have a fetal homicide law. In an interview with Raleigh's WRAL News, Kevin Blaine, Jenna Nielsen's father, lamented: "An unborn child should be recognized if the mother's killed .... Right now they recognize my daughter's murder. But they don't recognize my unborn grandson's murder or as a person, for that matter."
This year in the NC General Assembly, Representative Trudi Walend and Senator Andrew Brock attempted to change this deficit in the law – even before Nielsen's murder occurred. Their bills were shuffled off to committees where they were never allowed to get a hearing.
The stiffest opposition to the proposed law change comes from abortion rights advocates. According to USA Today, Janet Crepps, a staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, says, "fetal homicide laws are part of a broader agenda by abortion opponents to create legal rights for a fetus in order to set precedents that will help ban the procedure."
Yet prominent legal scholars who support Roe v. Wade say fetal homicide bills do not necessarily conflict with Roe. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, in Fundamental Cases: The Twentieth Century; Court Battles that Changed our Nation, says:
"And to prove that we all believe fetuses have certain status different from a, for example, sperm or egg, we would all agree that if a woman were pregnant and desperately wanted to have a child, and a man attacked her and beat her stomach purposely in order to kill that fetus, that that would be an extremely serious crime. Even if the mother herself wasn't hurt, killing of the fetus would be a serious crime when done against a woman who wanted to give birth to the child. So we know that the fetus in the body of a woman who wants to bear it as a child has a protected legal status – it ought to have a protected legal status ... "
Indeed, it should have a protected legal status. But that's not the case in the Tar Heel State. In fact, in North Carolina, if Jenna Nielsen had survived and baby Ethen had not, the charge would have only been aggravated assault.
One can only wonder where the same zeal of pro-choice advocates goes when it comes to recognizing and protecting the rights of a woman who obviously wanted to have her baby as opposed to someone who doesn't. Jenna Nielsen's mother told the Raleigh News & Observer's Ruth Sheehan that her daughter's "sons were as real to her in the womb as if she were holding them .... She couldn't wait for Ethen to be born."
What real meaning does a term like "pro-choice" have if it doesn't honor by law the choice of mothers that opt for life?
The Old Testament book of Genesis says that when Abel was murdered, his blood cried out to God from the ground. Media reports say that when law enforcement officials discovered Jenna Nielsen's body, it was a gruesome bloody scene. If the blood of one murder victim cries out to God from the ground, how much greater is the cry of two?
Perhaps the greater question is whether North Carolina will hear the cries of both Jenna and Ethen's blood for justice.
This article first appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer on Thursday, July 19, 2007.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.