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Texas law requires unborn child of shooting victim be counted

The sun sets behind 26 crosses placed in a field before a vigil Nov. 6, 2017, for the victims of the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Texas officials confirmed Devin Patrick Kelley as the shooter who killed 26 people and wounded about 20 others at the church. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(RNS) — The youngest victim of the mass shooting at a church in Texas wasn’t even born yet.

A state law passed in 2003 requires that the fetus Crystal Holcombe was carrying when she was fatally shot Sunday (Nov. 5) along with other worshippers at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs be counted like the other victims, who authorities say numbered 26 and ranged in age up to 77. Holcombe was in her eighth month of pregnancy.

This and other laws that grant full rights to the unborn form some of the newest terrain in U.S. law and are highly controversial. They frequently divide abortion rights and anti-abortion activists, with the first group saying they can be used to criminalize pregnant women while the second group says they are intended to prevent domestic violence and increase penalties for abuse.

Texas was among the first states to enact a feticide law in 2003. If Devin Kelley had not died after the shooting, the law would have required he be charged with the murder of Holcombe’s unborn child.

At least 38 states have fetal homicide laws, including Nevada, California, Virginia, Florida, Arizona and Colorado, all of which have been the site of mass shootings. In addition to Texas, 22 states have enacted feticide laws that apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy, including conception.

None of these laws apply to women who have legal abortions. However, opponents of feticide laws say they are more often used to prosecute women whose drug use or other illegal behavior results in the termination of a pregnancy than men who abuse pregnant women.

The first feticide laws were triggered by the murder of Laci Peterson by her husband, Scott Peterson, in California in 2002. Like Crystal Holcombe, Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant at the time of her death.

Murder, usually related to domestic violence, is a leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S., according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

129 Comments

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  • It would be nice if the fetus worshipers can take a break from being sanctimonious trolls.

    Of course in Texas it is far easier to buy multiple assault rifles and high capacity magazines than it is to obtain an abortion.

  • Duh. Of course the baby in the womb is a human being. This means that those who get an abortion are murdering their child. How many murderers are walking the streets free? Millions.

  • Of course, the pro-choice people consider these laws highly controversial, they highlight the cognitive dissonance inherent in legal elective abortion and so are an ever-present chink in abortion’s legal armor.

    As for the laws being used to prosecute women who abuse drugs while pregnant, whether the abuse comes from some man or the mother herself it’s still abuse.

  • Cognitive dissonance is showing more alleged concern for a fetus in other women’s bodies than born people.

    In Texas, having the ability to commit mass murder is far more important than the autonomy and rights of people.

  • In these states do they do an autopsy of every woman killed, regardless of whether she seems pregnant or not? It seems to me that due diligence would require that the womb and fallopian tubes be examined to see if there was a zygote (child) present. After all, life must begin at the first cell division. Women are pregnant many more times than they realize because the zygote never implants or spontaneously aborts without any noticeable evidence. Certainly with a law like this an autopsy would be required every time to be sure there were not two deaths. Maybe this apparent loop hole in the Texas law will be fixed next time the legislature meets. The prosecutors wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to add another murder charge. Or is all this just silly.

  • So you believe in magic. Inside the womb the baby is not a human being but somehow at birth it turns into a human being. That is magic.

  • It is a sound approach to law. Do conflate that with a right to abort an unwanted pregnancy, unless you want to raise, support, and educate millions of unwanted children that would be born every year, mostly to teenage under educated and poor young girls who got pregnant after they and their knucklehead boyfriends got hot on any given night, and will end up on welfare instead of finishing their education and then marrying a good man from a good family.

  • Is every egg and sperm sacred? A zygote has no more consciousness than that egg you had for breakfast.

  • When I was young, a teenage friend of mine got an abortion after becoming pregnant by an aggressive teenage boy. After the abortion, she went on to university, she graduated, got a great job and marriage a good man from a good family. She now lives in beautiful home with three beautiful children. Without the abortion, she would have been another teenage mother on welfare.

    Do you really want to put them all in prison for murder along with the doctors, nurses, the boyfriend, and maybe the parents who paid for the abortion?

  • I’m waiting for them to require that every woman who dies, no matter from what, be autopsied… just in case she was pregnant. Even a two cell zygote could be implanted in a surrogate. Wouldn’t want to loose one. Moreover, since there are millions of zygotes that are spontaneously aborted from living women, shouldn’t someone be regularly “inspecting” all women to catch those zygotes before they are unknowingly flushed down the drain? They could be rescued and implanted in surrogates too. Now that’s a real handmaiden’s tale. After all, this is the logical conclusion of the absolutist’s attitude toward abortion and birth.

  • “You must support the right to murder children unless you can materially provide for literally every one of them.”

    Would you extend this same logic to the old and infirm? I can’t provide for all their material needs, so must I likewise support euthanasia?

  • It is a gross condemnation of our society that we would resort to killing our own children because of the pressure to become “successful” from a material perspective. And an even grosser condemnation that anyone would consider this to be “good.”

  • Better to be an unsuccessful, unwed teenage mother with an unwanted pregnancy on welfare? It is you that is pressuring in the wrong direction.

  • You couch it as murder, while it is the termination of an unwanted pregnancy. It is called a woman’s right to choose.

  • It is absolutely a condemnation of our society that we would not help a woman in this situation whereby her future would not be “hurt” by having a baby. Instead, we encourage and pressure her to have her child killed.

  • I assure you as a father of a number of children, including those who have died in utero, they are children. The “right to choose” is the right to kill human beings. Again I ask, do you support the right to kill human beings who are already born but are “drains” on society like the old and infirm? Why or why not?

  • We are not talking about a child, we are talking about a fetus with the consciousness of a chicken egg. Why don’t you just be more careful with your sperm? They are all a potential child.

  • We are not talking about children or a human being that are already born. I am a granddaddy of five beautiful teenage grandchild. If one got pregnant by accident and not choice, and asked for my advice, I have to admit it would be difficult, but I would not label them a murderer if they were not ready to have a child. Why? Because I love them.

  • I am not the one who magically believes a fetus exists in an artificial womb. That there is not a person involved in the issue who has their own rights and body to consider. Its funny how you consider a fetus a human being, but its mother is so lacking in such qualities she is considered property. Something so far from consideration as to be non-existent in the discussion.

    “Inside the womb the baby is not a human being but somehow at birth it turns into a human being. That is magic.”

    Not what I said or even close to it. I said it becomes a person at birth. Personhood is a status of being that only can be conferred upon birth. It is not a zero sum existence. One cannot confer personhood to a fetus and take it away from its mother.

    When that human being is capable of an existence without being attached physically to the bodily systems of another human being.

    But all this assumes you are going to be honest, sane and will argue in good faith. I know you well enough that such an assumption is magical thinking.

  • First of all, that is a vulgar comment and you know it. Second, it’s scientifically illiterate. Sperm contain the DNA of just the man, just as eggs contain no more than the DNA of the woman. You need both to create a unique set of chromosomes that is a new person. There’s no “potential” for either sperm or eggs to become a person UNLESS they meet one another. So the whole idea of “potential life” is nonsensical and again, scientifically illiterate. No eggs are going to morph into people on their own. That’s not how sexual reproduction works.

    And second, have you, you know, seen a fetus? In utero or not? At 8 weeks? 12 weeks? 15 weeks? How about 24-25 weeks? Where do you draw the line? Birth?

  • “Not what I said or even close to it. I said it becomes a person at birth. ”

    Cool, so abortion at 40 weeks is fine just so long as the baby’s head isn’t delivered alive?

  • Did you miss the line– Why don’t you just be more careful with your sperm? It is because of your weakness that we have so many unwanted children born every year. Weak people continue the cycle of poverty in many cases by continuing to have unwanted children.

  • No, it is choice. A bad choice, but a choice.

    The full sentence is- “Weak people continue the cycle of poverty in many cases by continuing to have unwanted children.” You omitted the other half of the sentence in an attempt to mischaracterize what I said. Attempt to be honest.

  • Dense Buck, watch Month Python’s “Every Sperm is Sacred” skit. Watch it over and over again. If you still don’t get it, keep watching.

  • Seen it plenty and it’s a mildly amusing shot at Catholicism. Not that I agree, of course, but it’s a decently amusing premise and executed well.

    I also appreciate the fact that they’re equal opportunity satirists and also mock Protestants as frigid in the same bit.
    “Every time they have sexual intercourse, they have to have a baby”
    “Well it’s the same with us”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Well, we’ve got two children and we’ve had sexual intercourse twice!”

    So yeah, you really haven’t made a point then have you old sport?

  • “The cycle of poverty is only broken by killing unborn children.”

    That is what you are saying.

    And I am saying that a society where this is true is a society that is and ought to be condemned.

  • Except abortion is not sacrificing a child that others may have life and spend eternity with Christ. That isn’t a good example peepsqueek

  • Well that is a fairly common and brainless response.

    If it can come out of a womb alive by any number of means, it is “born” for all intents and purposes. Honest and rational discussion is not in the cards with some people on this subject. In fact the common form of terminating a pregnancy where the fetus can survive outside its mother preferred by the medical community is birth.

    BTW Sparky, “late term abortions” are invariably done by women who intended to keep their pregnancies but can’t due to medical conditions nor get the fetus out alive. But when one is so focused on a fetus and excluding all relevant facts, that sort of thing gets lost in the discussion.

  • “Would you extend this same logic to the old and infirm?”

    Only if the old and infirm require the biological systems of a single person to survive. There is no analogy or equivalent for a fetus’s existence with those already born.

    So there is no logic in your analogy there.

    “I can’t provide for all their material needs, so must I likewise support euthanasia?”

    Euthanasia is a decision the one to be dead makes. More bad analogies.

    As with abortion, you feel this need to interject yourself into the personal decisions of others where it is not appropriate, required or needed. Not your body, your approval is not necessary in either case.

  • Seeing that the mother bears 100% of the physical burden of a pregnancy and it requires her body, it is her decision entirely.

    You mistake having an opinion with having a say. Since it will never be your body, you will never have a say as to what goes on in the bodies of others. Women are not your personal property to command.

    “The “right to choose” is the right to kill human beings.”

    True, but it is not a right to kill people. People are born. A fetus is not a separate being from its mother until it can no longer be a fetus.

    “Again I ask, do you support the right to kill human beings who are
    already born but are “drains” on society like the old and infirm? Why or
    why not?”

    None of those analogies are on point. People already born are physically separable from others. They can not only make their own decisions, people can do so on their behalf without ever affecting the personhood of anyone else. That is never true with a pregnancy.

  • “Do you really want to put them all in prison for murder along with the
    doctors, nurses, the boyfriend, and maybe the parents who paid for the
    abortion?”

    Of course he does.

    His position has nothing to do with the sanctity of life or protecting anyone. Its about acting like a self-righteous nabob and treating women as his personal property to do as he commands.

  • Even a grosser condemnation that you think that you have a right to control the lives of others in such a crude and crass way.

    Its not like you have an ounce of concern for those already born. Be it the mother or children. Once you are willing to treat women as non-people, incapable of exerting control over their own bodies, it is very easy to do that with anyone born. It undercuts any kind of moral pretension you have in your fetus worship here.

  • “Where do you draw the line? Birth?”

    YES! IT IS AS BRIGHT A LINE AS YOU GET HERE!

    Nobody has to care what a fetus is like in utero. As long as it cannot be separated from its mother, one cannot pretend it is a separate person as you do. It can speak 7 languages, be your next Messiah or save the world at birth and none of that matters.

    Unless it can come out of the mother and survive on its own, it will always be her choice as to keep the pregnancy. Nobody is ever asking you to like or approve her decisions on the matter. Nobody ever needs to either.

  • Unborn children is not an honest term.
    Children by definition are born.

    I am saying your concern for life, is complete and utter bullsh1t. You can’t pretend to be concerned with a fetus yet show absolutely no regard for the lives of the born. All the while claiming to have some kind of position which affirms the sanctity of life. Life is only important to you in utero. After birth you show utter contempt for it.

    Your position is just narcissism. You want to feel morally superior to pregnant women and interject yourself in decisions you never have a say in.

  • Sandi is a hyperpious troll. Best not to take her too seriously or expect her to have a sane response to your posts.

  • Good point. We should autopsy every woman who dies just in case.
    Now, were you a zygote at one time or was it someone else?

  • But not a child, not a person. Until it can be physically separated from its mother, its existence as a human being is an irrelevance to the situation. Nice to note, but not determinate of anything here. No bearing on the right of a woman to control her own body. No bearing on your claim to control over her body.

  • Once you treat the babies in the womb as “non-people” you can kill them at will. That is what the nazis did and we got a holocaust. The holocaust of the pro-aborts makes that look like a picnic in comparison.

  • Again, not what I said and so what? Not a person.

    You trying to argue a point which is not in contention.

    Poor JP can’t go off script. So annoyed I am not arguing the way he wants.

  • Once you start pretending babies are in the womb and not born, as the term is properly used, you start making up all sorts of things and avoiding relevant facts. 🙂

  • For many centuries the Christian Church was content to draw the line at birth when the baby drew it’s first birth.

  • You will note that I am a man making talking about something that could never happen to me. The majority that passed this law are men making laws about what happens to women’s’ bodies. Since you are a JP, I have to guess, but I guess you are a man. Were you ever a zygote with a Y chromosome?

  • We already have 7.5 billion people on the planet fighting over dwindling resources and how to manage waste and pollution. Someone is going to have to sacrifice somewhere or there is going to be another world war.

    The biblical story of Jesus is fantasy and fiction. We have nothing that was written during his time. But if you believe it, then why would God, who created an entire universe in six days, have to make his only begotten son to suffer and die in such a humiliating manner? Please think before you post.

  • Tell me how this magic works. Its not a human being in the womb but somehow turns into a human being when the baby is born. Is there some kind of magic dust in the birth canal that turns the baby in the womb into a human being?

  • Was the first man made from a lump of dirt or clay, and was the first woman made from a rib? If you believe that, then you will have to believe anything. I was a frog who was kissed by a Princess. Sorry for the sarcasm

  • You have the oddest way to justify murder, peepsqueek.
    You lack of knowledge about Jesus, does not nullify His reality.

  • Yes, but I did not say that. Do you have an honest bone in your body? I repeat: “Weak people continue the cycle of poverty in many cases by continuing to have unwanted children.”

  • No they aren’t. They have to be born. Autonomy, by which personhood is defined comes with birth. Until then, it is not separate from its mother. Personhood is not a zero sum grant. One cannot give personhood to a fetus without removing it from its mother.

    Its telling that you don’t really consider the mother a human being or a person. Somehow a fetus has a right to life and existence for being a human being, but its mother has none.

  • No, your lack of reality does provide knowledge. You do not even know when Jesus was born. The Roman Emperor Constantine made Jesus birthday on the 25th of December to coincide with the ancient Roman celebration of the winter solstice. Jesus would have spoken to his people in a semitic language. Nothing was written about Jesus in his own language and definitely not in his time.

  • “Is there some kind of magic dust in the birth canal that turns the baby in the womb into a human being?”

    Oh yes, I will tell you how the magic works.

    When one is born, their bodies are physically separate from their mothers. They become a distinct being who can live without affecting the mother’s existence as a person in any relevant way.

    Its magic, but its also the basis of placental mammalian biology. Something which clearly needs to be explained to you in very derisive tones. Your whole spiel is about pretending a fetus isn’t gestating in the body of a woman and that a woman isn’t a person.

    A fetus is a human being to you, but its mother is not.

  • I have read the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur’an, but only in English. Most of the stories cannot be verified as facts. They were written by men, long after the death of the prophets.

  • Incorrect! She terminated an unwanted pregnancy so that she could finish growing up, finish her education, and have children with a good man that she honestly loves to this day. They have a beautiful family and all have a good life. And you resent her for that? Very Christian of you!

  • I really do not like fiction, except in the movies. I took a world’s religion class in City College. The teacher was a high order Catholic priest before he became a non-believer. It was a two hour night class, and three hours into the class, nobody left. He had to excuse himself each week because his class was so interesting, no one wanted to go home.

    Why don’t you read something about human history, evolution, biodiversity, geological time, and things that might help you to be more objective?

  • No, for her to grow up, she needed time and more education. She never had a baby until she was a married adult. Now she has beautiful children born with the man she loves, even if that offends you.

  • I’m more interested in helping people to have a relationship with Jesus and spend an eternity with Him, thanks. I gave up on fantasy when I was a child.

  • It is quite obvious that you have not given up on fantasy. But if you are happy, I am not trying to take that away from you.

  • You cannot take Christ away from anyone, but you can hurt yourself, and seems, that’s what you are doing. God bless.

  • “After birth you show utter contempt for it.”

    Argument made based on facts not in evidence. In fact, I’ve literally elsewhere on this story said that society should be swooping in to help these women. But yes, please continue with your assumptions.

  • You actually did so.

    You fail to acknowledge even the very existence of the mother, the fact that a fetus exists inside her body and that treating a fetus as a person inherently removes the personhood of her.

    Your inability to distinguish between a fetus and a baby or child shows a blithe indifference to the born. Equating them as if the difference between born and unborn does not exist.

    Your whole view is nothing but hostility to human beings and personhood.

    “I’ve literally elsewhere on this story said that society should be swooping in to help these women”

    There you go, you made my point. Expecting society to force women into the situation of your choosing. Not showing any respect for their lives, bodies or choices. You don’t like that women are making decisions without your approval. So you want to control their bodies and decide the them.

  • And none of it was your decision, nor did you have any say in the matter.

    Nobody needs your approval on such matters. Your opinion here is an irrelevancy.

  • She didn’t kill.a baby. Babies are born.

    I still can’t find the part where any of it was subject to your approval.

  • Texas is doing the right thing. They are not violating Roe v. Wade. They are simply reminding America that yes, it’s a baby. They have the constitutional right to do that.

    For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Ps 139:13)

    Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Ps 139:16)

  • If you prefer enabling mass murder and attacking the personhood of women, sure they are doing the right thing. For everyone else, not so much.

    And according to SCOTUS they did violate the rights of women with their onerous restrictions on abortion.

    And babies are born.

  • Because that is part of your false belief system. I have lived a long healthy life, and when it is time to go, if there is such a thing as God, it will be up to him or her to judge me, not you.

  • Again, that is a judgement call. You know nothing about me or my family but you are brainwashed into making a decision to tell me that I am hurting myself if I do not believe like you. That is a judgment call. Saying that it is not would be dishonest.

  • ” The holocaust of the pro-aborts makes that [the actual Holocaust] look like a picnic in comparison.”

    Thank you, JP, for revealing that you obviously believe women having control over their own bodies makes the recent mass murders in Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas look like picnics in comparison.

    I’m always thankful that my sense of morality is not derived from any religion.

  • You would have been accurate if you had said: “I’m more interested in helping people to have a [delusional] relationship with Jesus and spend an [imagined] eternity with Him, thanks. I gave up on fantasy [reality] when I was
    a child.”

  • JP said, “Truth is truth. Facts are facts. Can’t change that.”

    In your Christian world,
    Truth is TRUTH (Truly Repulsive and Untenable Theological Hogwash).
    Facts are FACTs (Fantasies Accepted as Complete Truth)
    Can’t change that.

  • Atheism is not a belief system, it a name for people who question the existence of a god or many gods. If you could prove them wrong, show the readers the proof.

    I believe that God exists as a concept, as there is no physical proof of this entity. Although I did see a very large man with a beard and a G on the back of his sweatshirt. Don’t rule that out!

  • What proof does the atheist have that no gods exist? What pro-god arguments has any atheist destroyed with any facts?

  • Sometimes! I have known several gender confused young men who were healthy and intelligent sperm donors. Several more were briefly married and had children.

  • The fact is that from the beginning of human existence there has never been a shred of legitimate evidence to prove that any gods exist. And that fact makes atheism the only rational position for anyone to hold.

  • Atheism. The lack of belief in a god. Neither true nor false. An opinion.
    Anti-theism: the declaration that there is no god. Not true or false. Logically, not provable at all. An opinion.
    Theism: the belief in a god or gods. Also, an opinion.

  • Not according to the 2/3 of the world that thinks it is not only an opinion, but a wrong one. Majority rules!

  • Yes, there is the imaginary [concept] of Jesus that she wants to keep, like hundreds of millions of other people. It is like keeping the concept of Santa Claus as a factual story well into adulthood, knowing that that story cannot hold up in adulthood. It would take a giant leap of faith to accept flying reindeer and a obese man with a sack full of toys getting down the chimney of every good boy and girl in the world as an adult. Maybe if it were just in the neighborhood, but he lives at the North Pole.

  • Am I also “brainwashed” if I do not believe the dogma of Judaism and Islam and Hinduism, etc, or am I only brainwashed if I do not accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior? Please give an academic response

  • Umm, the RNS article makes quite clear that none of the 38 states with fetal homicide laws, such as Texas, have been overturned by the USSC. These laws do **not** apply to women who choose to have legal abortions, so Roe isn’t violated.

    Nevertheless the message communicated is clear: It’s still a baby. It’s still a person.

    By now, I’m sure Devin Kelley agrees.

  • Not really the point. A fetus was never a person or a baby except in such a useless symbolic fashion.

    Which is that Texas is more concerned with empty gestures like this than addressing the problem of gun proliferation and mass murder. That their state government spends more time making illegal end runs around Roe v. Wade than looking for sane ways to interpret the 2nd Amendment.

  • The truth and reality is that 2/3 of the world thinks Christianity is nonsense, because their truth and reality is something quite different than yours. They even have a holy book to prove it.

    And half of Christianity thinks your version of Christianity is nonsense, and they have the very same holy book that you do to prove it.

  • 1/3 of the world believes in Christ which is far far more than those who believe in the atheism nonsense. We all know atheism is nonsense because its not a true picture of reality and has no facts to support it.

  • I have to assume you are talking about human life, because we take life everyday of the week. If you believe in God, then God takes human life with every flood, hurricane, earthquake, tornado, disease, famine, drought, plane crashes, etc.

    I have been to war and I never wanted to kill anyone, but you say that even self defense is murder. So by your definition, the above cycle of life and death is all murder.

    Mathematical equations are always reversible, therefore -termination of life = murder. I have just showed you that your reality is flawed as is your definition.
    If you got lost in the jungle, your concept of God does not care if you eat the animals or the animals eat you, because everything has got to eat. We, as a species destroy so much of the natural world just to feed our 7.5 billion people on the planet, and we cannot even keep up with waste management or and the greenhouse effect. You know there will be another war as in every generation as we fight over resources.

  • You couch terminating an unwanted pregnancy as ‘contempt for human life’. How many unwanted children are you feeding, sitting up nights to hold them when they are sick, and paying for their education, medicine, clothing, etc, etc, etc, until they are adults?

  • Be more careful with your sperm and eggs if you do not want to double the population of the planet every few years.

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