I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
N.M. lawmaker seeks to protect ‘unborn victims of violence’
In the wake of a horrific murder in Santa Fe, one Republican state lawmaker says he’ll ask Gov. Bill Richardson to add a controversial proposal — the Unborn Victims of Violence Act — to the agenda for the next legislative session.
“I’m going to talk to the Santa Fe legislators, now that we’ve had an occurrence, and see if they’ll agree [to support the bill],” Rep. Larry Larrañaga, an Albuquerque Republican, tells NMI.
“In fact, I’m going to request that the governor would put it on the call. I’ve got most of the paperwork together and I think we’ll call it the Isaac Victims Law,” Larrañaga adds.
Isaac was the name that 17-year-old Sarah Lovato planned to use for her baby, who was just a few weeks away from being born when police say Lovato and her father were shot to death by her boyfriend, Marino Leyba Jr.
The bill, which Larrañaga last introduced in 2005, would allow for a defendant to be charged with murder in the death of any woman who was pregnant, even if she had conceived so recently she didn’t know she was pregnant.
Santa Fe District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco has charged Leyba with two counts of murder but no charge in relation to the killing of the fetus.
Pro-choice activists say they hope to once again defeat the bill, which they say is aimed at eventually undermining Roe v. Wade.
Rep. Brian Egolf, a Democrat who represents a district in Santa Fe, says he’s been hearing a lot about the murder from his constituents, who are eager to see the Lovatos’ accused murderer — and others who commit similar crimes — severely punished.
“I think everybody is justifiably outraged by this crime, but what bothers me that there’s no way under statute, right now, to enhance the charges against this defendant, based on the fact that he apparently intentionally shot at the mother’s belly,” Egolf, a lawyer who is also a member of the Legislature’s interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, says.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody to thinks it’s OK that this is being prosecuted the way it is,” Egolf says, hastening to mention that he’s not criticizing the district attorney.
For Egolf, and other pro-choice legislators, the debate over the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, will be a difficult one to navigate, but he’s confident that it can be done.
“The way we deal with it is to work with the pro-choice advocates to see how we can draft a bill that will protect Roe while allowing a prosecutor to go after somebody,” Egolf says.
Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, one of the House’s staunchest supporters of women’s reproductive rights, says that even though all can agree on the tragedy of the Lovatos’ murders, the political implications of the Unborn Victims of Violence bill will make it hard to pass.
“It’s just such a complicated issue because it brings in these classic wedge issues between the far religious right and those of us who try to keep government out of the reproductive lives of women,” Stewart says.
“I don’t hear it being resolved very easily at this point… If we can’t come up with a consensus, so that women’s health issues are not made the big issues, then it won’t go anywhere,” she says.
As NMI reported last month, some women’s rights advocates are opposed to laws like the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, saying they are too often used against pregnant women. But such laws are strongly supported by anti-abortion groups and opposed by many in the pro-choice camp, who say they are part of a long-term plan to establish rights for fetuses and overturn the right to an abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.
One existing New Mexico law, called Injury to a Pregnant Woman, was designed specifically to be used in cases like this, says Jane Wishner of the Southwest Women’s Law Center, but Pacheco told NMI that she believed she could not use that law to charge Leyba because it would put him in double jeopardy.
“You can’t charge someone for injury to a pregnant woman and also charge the person for a homicide. It isn’t acknowledging two different crimes. They’re not separate crimes. You can’t charge a defendant with the death of the same person two times,” Pacheco explains.