Judge Dismisses Charges Against Woman Who Killed Her Unborn Child

ByABC News
October 19, 2006, 4:29 AM

Oct. 19, 2006 — -- A Virginia judge has dismissed charges today against a young woman who shot herself in order to kill her unborn child in a case that has angered anti-abortion activists.

Tammy Skinner was a poor, desperate 22-year-old with two young children and another one on the way.

She said her boyfriend wouldn't pay for an abortion, so she carried her pregnancy to term.

Then she did the unthinkable.

Prosecutors say that on the morning she was scheduled to give birth, Skinner drove to an auto dealer's parking lot, took a gun, and shot herself in the belly, killing the fetus in an act of self-abortion. Skinner was charged with carrying out an illegal abortion.

Is Skinner a criminal?

Today, a Virginia judge said no. The charges were dropped, her case dismissed.

Should he have ruled otherwise?

The law in question states that it is illegal to administer or cause an illegal abortion on an expectant mother.

But Skinner's defense lawyer, Kevin Martingayle, argued that the law did not make it a crime for a mother to cause her own abortion. Ultimately, that argument convinced Circuit Court Judge W. R. Carter.

If someone else had pulled the trigger, he or she would be criminally accountable. Because it was the pregnant woman herself, no crime was committed, the court ruled.

But the Commonwealth of Virginia filed a direct indictment against Skinner, putting her case back in the courtroom.

Skinner's case has legal analysts scratching their heads and anti-abortion activists pounding their fists.

To those activists, this is an unequivocal case of murder coupled with a failure of the courts to catch it.

In an online article, Keith Fournier, a Catholic deacon in Richmond, Va., wrote that equated Skinner's case with the abortion movement as a whole.

He criticized, in particular, the fact that Skinner's earlier charges had been dropped.

"This case reveals all the evil fangs on the evil face of legal abortion on demand," Fournier said.

In a written statement, Skinner admits to the tragic and gruesome act.

But she also provides a context for it, portraying a moment of desperate confusion stirred by constant mental abuse.

It all began just after 3 a.m. on Feb. 23, 2006.

"I couldn't sleep that morning, and I got up out of bed. I got dressed and grabbed my gun. I was having contractions -- so scared out of my mind," Skinner said in a written statement to authorities.

"I got somebody to load the gun, because I didn't know how. I got in the car. Sat there for a while and told the Lord that my mind was not right. I pulled the trigger. The gun went off."

After Skinner pulled the trigger, she called 911 and told the operator she had gotten into an argument with a man named Travis, who then shot her in the stomach.