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Republicans in Congress have decided to use the Laci Peterson murder case to try and enact the first federal law to endow an unborn child with legal rights separate from the expectant mother. They have taken a horrible tragedy and are cynically using it as a vehicle to weaken abortion rights.

The Peterson family is understandably shaken over the death of Laci and her unborn child. But Republicans seem to have glommed onto this tragedy for their own political needs, and President Bush has pledged support for what has been renamed "Laci and Conner's Law." By now, most people know that Laci's husband, Scott, has been charged with double murder in California for the deaths of his wife and unborn son. The state has a fetal homicide law, as do 25 other states.

Abortion rights supporters correctly point out that efforts to federally recognize an unborn child as a potential victim independent of the expectant mother is one more step toward criminalizing abortion. After all, if a fetus can be a murder victim, then the doctor who performs an abortion can be considered a murderer -- or so that chain of logic would have us believe.

Acts of violence against women -- pregnant or otherwise -- can be fully prosecuted without recognizing a fetus as a separate victim. After all, the societal interest here is taking the assailant off the streets.

But that's not the primary purpose of this legislation. The intention here is to take away the rights of women to choose. Congress should not allow that to happen.

Abortion is one of America's major political and moral fault lines. People of good faith have varying opinions. But it is a sad state of affairs when pro-life leaders are willing to use a family's tragedy to continue their campaign to take away a woman's right to choose.

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