A recent headline said it all: ‘For Laci Peterson’s mother, the holidays mark a time of sorrow.’ Laci Peterson, if you’ll remember, was the pregnant woman in Modesto, California, who went missing exactly a decade ago. Her body and that of her seven-and-a-half-month-old fetus were found the next April on the shores of the San Francisco Bay. Later, her husband Scott Peterson was charged with her murder and that of their son, who was to be named Conner, and sentenced to death in March 2005.
As in other high-profile murders, such as the death of Jane Creba here in Toronto on Boxing Day 2005, special interest groups zoomed in on the Peterson case like vultures on a corpse. Not surprisingly, the self-described pro-life movement jumped on the Peterson story to pontificate on the evils of abortion. They avoided mentioning, of course, that Laci Peterson actually wanted her pregnancy and that at almost ‘eight months gone,’ she was far beyond the point at which virtually all abortions take place. One couldn’t help but sense a bit of opportunism in the anti-abortion movement’s use of the tragedy to further their own agenda.
However, the reaction of the pro-choice movement and the left wing in general to Laci Peterson’s killing bothered me even more. Some showed a disregard for and even outright hostility to Peterson which made me question so-called progressives’ supposed concern for women. Such an attitude was nowhere more apparent than on the American online forum Democratic Underground. Many commentators there gave the impression that they considered Peterson’s death no great tragedy. One poster, ‘SweetZombieJesus,’ said they ‘couldn’t possibly give a shit about Laci Peterson.’ He or she lamented the fact that ‘Miss Perfect White Soccer Mom Laci Peterson’ was receiving far more attention than a non-White victim of domestic violence would (never mind that Peterson was Portuguese, an ethnic group considered separate from Whites in places like Hawaii or colonial Guyana). Others were openly antagonistic towards Laci Peterson. One poster with the online name Quill Pen said she wasn’t disturbed by Peterson’s death because Laci wasn’t the ‘brightest bulb in the pack’ for getting pregnant in the first place.
To be fair, other Democratic Underground members attempted to counter the anti-Peterson rhetoric. One poster describing themselves as a ‘pro-choice atheist’ voiced satisfaction that the murder of Laci Peterson was being punished and openly rued the ‘Scott Peterson apologists coming out of the woodwork’ on Democratic Underground. Another stated that ‘we are the pro-choice movement, and we will stand up for the fact that Laci Peterson should have had a choice.’ On the other hand, the ‘pro-Laci’ faction was for the most part drowned out by those who saw Ms. Peterson’s death as nothing to really cry about and scorned or chastised those who did.
Beyond Democratic Underground, the mainstream pro-choice movement’s attitude wasn’t much more heartening. Many pro-choice leaders opposed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (otherwise known as ‘Laci and Conner’s Law’), a statute that would make the murder of a pregnant women equivalent to two crimes rather than just one, on the grounds that it would affect women’s right to abortion, even though the legislation specifically exempted legal abortions. Here again, there were dissidents: according to former National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland, Laci Peterson’s death was indeed a double homicide.
Still, the Left’s reaction to Laci Peterson’s demise makes one wonder about their much-trumpeted commitment to women’s well-being. At times, the lives of real women seem to take a back seat to abstract principles like the ‘right to choose [an abortion]’ – which, by the way, I view as an important right. This is not the first time this has happened. For example, when Aqsa Parvez, a young South Asian woman in Ontario, was murdered by her father and brother for refusing to wear a veil, the left-wing Toronto Star’s columnist Jim Coyle expressed sympathy for her killers. In this instance, the need to avoid appearing racist (by condemning so-called honour killings) took precedence over an actual woman’s right to life itself.
The fact that a large majority of Americans – a majority that includes women – supported ‘Laci and Conner’s Law’ suggests that women aren’t falling for the fear-mongering by some leftists that this type of legislation will suddenly eliminate their right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. I also believe that by vociferously opposing laws penalizing violence against expectant mothers, the pro-choice movement and the Left as a whole risk losing relevance in the lives of the women they purport to defend.