Fetal homicide bill has ties to Lincoln County

January 09, 2004|EMILY BURTON

FRANKFORT - A fetal homicide bill named in part for a Lincoln County baby killed by a drunken driver received the endorsement of Gov. Ernie Fletcher Thursday at a media-packed rally in the Capitol Rotunda. The Caleb-Haley Act has been introduced to the legislature several times, but has yet to pass both chambers, despite sponsor Stan Lee's, R-Lexington, years of determined support.

"Welcome to what we hope will be the last rally to support the passage of the Caleb-Haley Act," said Lee on Thursday. "In this state it's sad that you can kick a dog twice, and we can put you in prison, but you can kill and baby and we can't."

Lee was joined by the governor and host of senators, representatives and mothers touched by fetal homicide, including members of a local family who rallied the cause with short speeches.

"I'm hear to pledge my support for the families here, and I also want to pledge my support for House Bill 3, the Caleb-Haley bill. Thirty-four other states have some type of fetal homicide laws. Five out of seven states surrounding Kentucky have some type of law ... ," Fletcher told supporters during a brief appearance.


Leah Denham's vehicle was struck by Stephen E. James, three day's past her due date. The accident occurred Aug. 24, 2002, on the way home from Danville. James was driving under the influence.

Denham's baby, Ralph Caleb Denham, did not take a breath outside the womb and so was not considered a person under current Kentucky law.

Rosemary Hazlett, Caleb's grandmother, and the Denham family brought their story from Lincoln County to the rotunda to memorialize their lost baby.

"He (James) was sentenced to 11 years for injuring them and endangering another driver, but not one day will be for killing Caleb," said Hazlett before the rally.

"I had a C-section done to try and get Caleb out in time, but he didn't make it," said Denham. When she found out her son was not considered a person in Kentucky, she told the crowd, "I felt so helpless, and so angry."

Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster, showed his support for the Denham cause during a brief speech where he asked, "If we can protect the life of an eagle egg, why can't we protect the life of an unborn child?"

Sen. Dick Roeding is also backing the bill. He has introduced a bill similar to the Caleb-Haley Act in the Senate.

"I stand here very proud today, because I am standing beside people of principle, who will not bend their morals ... The time is now to effectively protect the life of the unborn," said Roeding.

Before the rally he and Lee addressed the families in a separate room overlooking the crowded rotunda.

"We are only having trouble with (the bill) in committee," said Roeding, "Only in the Judiciary Committee, and only with the chairman. If he would only hear the bill it would pass."

Lee talked with the families, polishing speeches and encouraging others. To Rita Canada he handed a picture of an fetus 8-weeks in the womb, it's facial features already visible.

"Do you think you can do this? Are you sure?" asked Lee. The fetus was the same age as her grandchild when it was killed by a drunken driver.

If approved, the Caleb-Haley Act would make the death of a fetus a homicide. Lee's legislation would amend the definition of homicide to include the life of a fetus from conception onward.

This week an opposing bill was introduced into the Senate by Democrats, furthering the battle defined largely along party lines.

The competing Democratic bill would prosecute fetal homicide only if the fetus is "viable."

Lee told reporters earlier this week he did not feel the Democrats' bill was strong enough and it would be difficult to prove viability in court. Republicans argue that a fetus is a person and of value before viability, and should be protected as such.

"... In this session, life will prevail!" shouted Sen. David Williams, President of the Senate.

Democrats say the bill's definition of a person is too rash, and some organizations have called Lee's legislation an attempt to undermine a woman's right to choice. Both versions of the bill have exempted legal abortions, as have other states with similar laws. However, many states' fetal homicide laws were passed due to their viability clauses.

Families that have lost babies to violence before birth largely support the Republican legislature, and say it is time for the law to protect their unborn children at any age.

"From her hospital bed, my daughter wanted to know how we could change things, ... over time I've listened to Rita (Canada), I've listened to her tears," said Hazlett. "I won't support this viability law. I will not stand in the face of this woman and say my grandson was more important than hers because he was further along."

Canada's grandchild was killed by a drunken driver who swerved off the road and struck her daughter in her front yard. As Lee spoke she held the picture of the fetus.

"We don't believe that 'it' is nothing, we believe 'it' is something. In fact, we believe it's a person," said Lee of the fetus. "As Dr. Seuss said, a person's a person no matter how small."

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