Violence Against Pregnant Women is Not Uncommon

The death of Laci Peterson, as well as the unsolved murder of another pregnant woman whose body washed up in San Francisco Bay, points to a disturbing phenomenon well known to police, health advocates and experts on battered women: homicide is not an uncommon cause of death for pregnant women.

“People think that pregnancy is a joyful, happy time for families. That's not always true,” said Phyllis Sharps, an associate professor at The Johns Hopkins University's School of Nursing who researches violence against women.

In some cases, the woman has been abused for years, and the violence escalates to murder after she's pregnant. In others, pregnancy itself sparks emotions that can lead to murderous rages.


Pro-life groups point out that abortion has allowed men to target pregnant women. Men who are not ready for the responsibility of parenthood sometimes threaten to withdraw financial or emotional support &#0151 including ending the relationship &#0151 if their partner refuses to have an abortion. When the threats don't work, the anger can turn to violence.

Friends and family say they saw no signs of strain or abuse in the relationship between Scott and Laci Peterson. Scott Peterson plead innocent to killing his wife and their unborn son, whose bodies washed up not far from the spot where he said he was fishing on Christmas Eve, the day Laci disappeared.

In San Francisco, 24-year-old Evelyn Hernandez was a week away from delivering a second son when she disappeared last May with her 5-year-old boy. Her body &#0151 clad in maternity clothes &#0151 was found in the bay three months later. Her son remains missing. The married man she was dating has cooperated with police, and no arrests have been made.

One study illustrates the phenomenon of violence pregnant women are facing and pro-life groups say it points to the need for stronger laws that punish criminals with two crimes &#0151 against both mother and child.

Homicide was found to be the leading cause of death for pregnant women in Maryland, according to a March 2001 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Using death records and coroner reports, state health department researchers found 247 pregnancy-associated deaths between 1993 and 1998. Among those deaths, 50 were murders. By comparison, homicide was the fifth-leading cause of death among all Maryland women.

The Maryland study reinforced at least two earlier studies that found homicide to be the top killer of pregnant women. In Cook County, Ill., 26 percent of the 95 deaths of pregnant women recorded between 1986 and 1989 were slain. In New York, 25 percent of the 293 deaths among pregnant women between 1987 and 1991 were homicides.

Police records show that homicidal violence cuts across all races and classes. “There is no profile of what these men look like,” Sharps said. “Many are educated, upstanding citizens.”

(This Associated Press release reprinted here courtesy of Steven Ertelt and the Pro-Life Infonet email newsletter. For more information or to subscribe go to or email

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