Pregnancy

Judge: Infanticide Is Kind Of Like A Fourth Trimester Abortion

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Last May, an Alberta Court of Appeals overturned an Edmonton jury’s verdict in the case of the brutal murder of a newborn child. Twice a jury had found Katrina Effert guilty of murder for the death of her son, who she strangled with her underwear and threw over the fence into her neighbor’s yard. In 2006, a jury found her guilty of second-degree murder. It was overturned by the court of appeal. They held the trial again. Another jury found her guilty of the same crime in 2009.

This time the court of appeal said that the jury hadn’t given enough weight to two clinical experts who testified that Effert’s mind was disturbed when she killed her son. The prosecution disagrees, saying that the experts didn’t even have experience with infanticide. The court also didn’t like that pictures of the strangled newborn son had been shown to the jury.

In any case, while reasonable people can disagree about the original verdicts or how they were overturned, that’s not what I find interesting about this case. Check out what Judge Joanne Veit said in explaining why the woman would receive a “suspended sentence” instead of the life sentence she was facing before the court overturned the jury ruling:

[W]hile many Canadians undoubtedly view abortion as a less than ideal solution to unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, they generally understand, accept and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support . . . Naturally, Canadians are grieved by an infant’s death, especially at the hands of the infant’s mother, but Canadians also grieve for the mother.

Except that this case had nothing to do with abortion. It was about the homicide of a child who had somehow succeeded in making it to birth without being aborted. How far do we take this? Is it a matter of hours? Days? Speaking of “onerous demands”, things can get rough after a few months of no sleep. Or what about the infamous terrible twos?

Should the judge extend the principles underlying legalized abortion in order to mitigate the killing of a legal person. And just how long and under what circumstances do those mitigating factors apply?

One can sympathize with the onerous demands of pregnancy and childbirth without understanding precisely what the judge is trying to say here.

7 Comments

  1. Rebecca

    September 13, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Umm… Aren’t late term abortions tightly monitored and restricted to life or death situations??? While I’m pro choice I think anyone who could just demand a third or fourth trimester abortion for no other reason then “it’s to demanding” is pretty f-ed up. So I also think anyone who could kill a newborn is pretty f-ed up. You don’t get a late term abortion unless giving birth is literally going to kill you. Obviously this woman was well out of that danger zone. She should be treated as any other wackjob who kills their own kids,regardless of the childs age. And that judge should get a smack in the back of the head for being an idiot.

    • jude

      January 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      here in nm. you can get a 3rd trimester abortion for any reason. that’s up to 9 months.

  2. Teresa

    September 13, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Nope. I’m as pro-choice as they come, but infanticide is not like abortion. When the fetus is in the woman she has the right to decide whether to carry it to term and deliver it or abort it. When the fetus is born it becomes a baby and can be dropped off at any nearby hospital, fire station, police station, Wal Mart, etc and survive just fine. I can certainly see a lenience for killing your neonate–it’s a very emotional and traumatic moment and the mother may not be in her right mind–but it should still be a serious crime.

  3. Jen

    September 14, 2011 at 10:30 am

    No way. I’m pro choice, but the choice only applies while the baby is a fetus. I don’t agree with third trimester abortions unless the mother’s life is threatened, in other words, if the baby can survive outside the womb, I don’t really see it as a choice anymore. This was a baby, a person the second it was born and she murdered it. Like Teresa said above, she could have dropped it off somewhere, given it up safely. If she wasn’t in her right state of mind I can see taking that into account, but she should still be punished because she is still a murderer.

  4. Jen

    September 14, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Apologies if this is a repeat post, I’m having trouble getting things to post today:

    Some points:
    1) The actual court case: If one reads the appeals court judgement (authored by Veit) it is clear that this abortion quote has NOTHING to do with the court’s findings. Infanticide is an affirmative defense used to mitigate a charge of murder by claiming that the mother was so mentally distressed at the time she killed her infant that she literally was unable to realize that her actions were wrong. There were two main issues that the defense appealed re: Effert’s second degree murder conviction: 1) The defendant had actually initially attempted to plead guilty to this lesser charge, but the prosecution did not find the two expert witnesses who gave testimony to her state of mind compelling. 2) The defendant had also attempted to have a non-jury trial, but this was also not done (I’m not clear on Canadian law, I’m pretty sure here in the States you have a right to waive your jury trial). The court found that the evidence for infanticide over second degree murder was compelling AND that the jury who convicted her was swayed not by any of the prosecution’s evidence to the contrary, but by the swirl of emotions that surround the death of a baby.

    2) I’m honestly curious to read the full text of this quote. There is an ellipsis in the same spot in every report I’ve seen that features this quotation and it is driving me crazy. It is nearly impossible to read this and have any opinion about what the judge actually meant without understanding the context it was said in (was it in response to a direct question, was it part of a larger musing on the state of Canada re:respect for children/women?) and what she actually said.

    3) That being said, let’s assume that the judge’s words when taken all together still roughly amount to her comparing infanticide to “fourth trimester abortion” (which is not a phrase actually used by anyone but Mollie and a bunch of “pro-life” websites). Ok, so clearly this is wrong and killing a baby is a different thing than killing a fetus. Because a baby, by definition, has ALREADY BEEN BORN and is no longer reliant upon (and wreaking havoc upon) a host body. And you know who agrees with this point of view? The large majority of pro-choice men and women. Just as the majority of “pro-lifers” shouldn’t be classed with fringe clinic bombers and doctor killers, the majority of pro-choicers have ALREADY made clear that killing newborns is not ok. It’s kind of disingenuous to even suggest that there isn’t a distinction between a fetus and a newborn, especially considering that 90% of abortions occur within the first trimester and only 1.5% of all abortions occur during the last trimester. In most places these late term abortions occur because a fetus is no longer viable or a woman’s life is in danger. The spectre of thousands of women carrying their pregnancies late into the ninth month and then heartlessly aborting as they are giving birth is one of the most ridiculous pieces of propaganda to come out of the “pro-life” movement. It would be laughable if not for the pain it causes the hundreds of men and women who HAVE to abort wanted babies in the last trimester.

    • mel

      September 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm

      wow what a stupid thing to say. nobody HAS to abort a wanted baby in the last trimester. babies in the last trimester can be delivered alive. even babies in the late second trimester can make it. my cousin was born 3 months early, and he’s 18 years old now and doing fine. the only reason anyone aborts in the third trimester, no you know what, there’s no earthly reason why a third trimester abortion is ever warranted. deliver the baby alive if the mother’s life is threatened. it’s amazing how twisted some people’s logic can get when they try to defend the indefensible. sad.

    • WMDKitty

      September 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm

      @Mel — WRONG.

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