Personhood rights extend to unborn baby killed in pregnant mom's murder: Mass. Supreme Court

Baby in the womb
An image of an unborn child. |

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that an unborn baby killed as a result of the homicide of a pregnant woman is entitled to personhood rights.

Last Tuesday's ruling comes amid increasing debate over the rights of the unborn in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled there is no constitutional right to abortion. 

Peter Ronchi, who was convicted of two first-degree murder charges for killing his nine-month-pregnant girlfriend, Yuliya Galperina, and her full-term unborn baby in May 2009, asked the court to overturn the convictions. He argued that it should not be up to the court to decide whether an unborn baby attains personhood for the purposes of the law of homicide.

Ronchi's defense team argued the baby wasn't injured during the stabbing and that the unborn child's death should not subject him to a first-degree murder conviction.

However, the court ruled that Ronchi's argument was weak.

Although none of the 15 stab wounds were inflicted on the baby, Ronchi's violent act towards a pregnant woman in her ninth month resulted in the cessation of the mother's life-sustaining blood flow, ultimately leading to the death of the viable fetus, the ruling stressed.

The court noted that Ronchi repeatedly stabbed Galperina in areas of the body, such as the torso, where vital organs are located, and thereby committed a violent act against the unborn child.

"The defendant committed an act of violence against a woman who was nine months pregnant, repeatedly stabbing her," the opinion states. "By ending the mother's life, he destroyed the viable fetus through the cessation of life-sustaining maternal blood flow."

In January 2020, Aaron Trejo, an 18-year-old from Indiana, was sentenced to 65 years in prison for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend, Brena Rouhselang — 55 years for the murder of Rouhselang and 10 years for the murder of their unborn child.

The teenager admitted to killing his 17-year-old girlfriend by stabbing in December 2018 because she waited too long to get an abortion. He threw her body in a dumpster and tossed her phone and the murder weapon into a river, according to court papers.

However, in July 2019, a manslaughter charge was dropped against an Alabama woman whose unborn baby died during a fight in which she was shot in the stomach five times.

Marshae Jones, who was five months pregnant when she was accused of beating up a co-worker who ultimately drew a gun and fired it at her five times, wounding her in the stomach and killing her unborn baby, is no longer being considered responsible for the baby's death, The New York Times reported at the time.

Similarly, a second-degree abortion charge was dropped against a man who killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend and her unborn child in New York due to the Reproductive Health Act that had removed abortion from the state's criminal code. The man was still charged with murder. 

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