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Sunday, June 06, 2004

Kansas City Star | 06/06/2004 | Ruling on deportation mystifies abortion foes

Kansas City Star | 06/06/2004 | Ruling on deportation mystifies abortion foes

Ruling on deportation mystifies abortion foes

Judge let pregnant woman stay in U.S.

By DONALD BRADLEY

The Kansas City Star


Abortion opponents got a surprise when federal Judge Scott O. Wright refused to deport a pregnant Raymore woman last month.

He was talking their talk.

Wright ruled that the government could not send Myrna Dick back to Mexico, because her unborn child was an American citizen with constitutional rights. As such, the baby was entitled to stay in the country.

Anti-abortion forces have been using a similar argument since the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in 1973: A fetus is a human being and worthy of constitutional protection.

The irony is that Wright often has been at odds with abortion opponents during his 25 years as a federal judge. They have accused him of legislating abortion rights from the bench.

How, a Missouri lawmaker wondered last week, can Wright block a ban on partial-birth abortion one day and rule that a fetus is an American citizen another day?

“How does he possibly reconcile these two positions?” asked state Rep. Ed Emery, a Lamar Republican and an ardent abortion opponent who has called for Wright's impeachment. “I would be very interested to hear his explanation.”

Simple, Wright said: “I go by the law.”

Besides the rights of the unborn, the Mryna Dick case also has touched on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the high-profile Scott Peterson murder trial, now under way in California.

And the man with the gavel is the 80-year-old Wright, a World War II-era aviator who once denounced the country's war on drugs as “absolutely destroying our inner-city communities.” The judge has railed against racial profiling, the loosening of search-and-seizure laws and a school district's ban on students wearing hair in cornrows.

A fan of Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff, Wright once wrote that one of his most interesting cases was whether the Grand Ole Opry had exclusive copyright to the word “opry.”

He ruled it did not.

Few would deny that Wright is legally savvy, but abortion opponents say he is a liberal who needs to go.

In 1999, Wright issued a temporary restraining order against a ban on partial-birth abortion. Last year he blocked a Missouri law that required a 24-hour waiting period before someone could get an abortion.

In April, Emery presented a resolution to the Missouri House asking the U.S. Congress to impeach Wright because of his abortion rulings. Emery said then that Wright had ruled in favor of abortion rights in every case before him.

The resolution never made it out of committee.

Now comes the Myrna Dick case.

Dick, 29, immigrated to the United States as a young girl and has spent most of her life here. She is married to an American citizen and is pregnant with the couple's first child.

Dick had kept her work permit current and had sought permanent resident status. But in April, when she went to immigration offices to renew her work permit, authorities arrested her. They accused her of claiming false American citizenship during a 1998 border crossing, a violation punishable by immediate and permanent removal from the country.

Dick denied the allegation and hired attorneys. They argue that she was caught up in heightened security measures put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Shortly before she was to be put on a plane to Mexico, Wright issued a stay and ordered both sides to appear in court.

During that May 27 hearing, Dick's attorney, Rekha Sharma-Crawford, challenged the government's evidence that Dick was the person involved in the 1998 border crossing. Sharma-Crawford asked why the government would wait all these years to arrest Dick if they knew her identity.

Jeffrey P. Ray, an assistant U.S. attorney, countered that the government had solid evidence against Dick, including fingerprints. Ray asked that the stay be lifted so that Dick could be deported.

Wright denied the request, saying the government had no grounds to deport Dick's unborn baby. He asked the gender of the baby and from then on referred to it as “he.”

Then, Wright mentioned Scott Peterson, who is charged with killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and the couple's unborn son. The case led to the passage earlier this year of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as “Laci and Conner's Law.”

The act basically grants unborn children equal protection under the law.

When Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansas for Life and former head of Missouri Right to Life, first heard about Wright's ruling, she wondered whether the judge was trying to discredit the new law.

Abortion-rights groups had fought the measure, even though it contained an exception for abortion.

“They didn't want any law that included the notion that the unborn is a human, because they lied about that for 30 years,” Culp said.

The national Planned Parenthood Federation of America had argued that the law did nothing to protect pregnant women or punish their assailants. President Gloria Feldt said the law was a deceptive anti-choice strategy to undermine Roe v. Wade.

Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood in Kansas and Mid-Missouri, declined to comment on the Myrna Dick case.

Culp said that if Wright was sincere in his recent decision, “then he has a whole lot of cases he needs to reverse.”

Wright said he typically did not comment on pending cases, but he denied any motivation beyond the law in the Dick case.

In court, he said that if Scott Peterson could be charged with the murder of an unborn child, then the government could not deport an unborn child who had done nothing wrong.

But then what about abortion?

Wright, citing the abortion exception in the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, said the new law did not contradict Roe v. Wade.

“I'm against abortion, personally, but I feel like it's a woman's choice,” Wright said.

“And we still have Roe versus Wade. As long as it's on the books, then that's the law.”

To reach Donald Bradley,

call (816) 234-7810 or send e-mail to dbradley@kcstar.com.

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