Why Pregnant Women Are Targeted

ByABC News
February 22, 2005, 2:54 PM

Feb. 24, 2005 — -- The slaying of a pregnant Texas woman, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, and the recent attack on a Kentucky expectant mom who killed her knife-wielding female assailant after the woman apparently tried to steal her unborn child are reminders that pregnant women can often be targeted for murder. But the alleged motives differ depending on the gender of the attacker.

Stephen Dale Barbee, 37, of Fort Worth, said he suffocated Lisa Underwood, and her 7-year-old son because he feared she would tell his wife about their affair, according to an affidavit. Officials said he led police to a makeshift grave containing the bodies of Underwood, 34, and her son, who had been reported missing Saturday after they failed to show up at her baby shower.

Underwood was seven months pregnant, and Barbee was the father of the unborn child. According to an affidavit in the case, Barbee, who was married in December, told police he killed Underwood as the two argued about whether he should leave his wife. He said he killed Jayden because the boy walked in on them, according to the affidavit.

Underwood's slaying is the latest attack on a pregnant woman to generate national headlines, but statistics show such violence is far from rare. Studies in recent years have found that outside of medical complications, homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women.

A study published in the March 2005 edition of the American Journal of Public Health found that homicide was a leading cause of death among pregnant women in the United States between 1991 and 1999. Data taken from the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the pregnancy-associated homicide ratio was 1.7 per 100,000 live births.

A 2001 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association said 20 percent of Maryland women who died during pregnancy were murdered. Researchers found the same trend in New York from 1987-1991 and in the Chicago area from 1986-1989. According to the CDC, approximately 324,000 pregnant women are hurt by an intimate partner or former partner each year.

Experts say that while pregnant women are more commonly targeted by men -- particularly spouses, boyfriends or exes -- they also need to be wary of other women. Each has very different reasons for targeting expectant mothers.

Men who kill pregnant women are most likely romantically involved with their victims and see the pregnancy and unborn child as obstacles and burdens in their lives. They may not want a child, may want to pursue an extramarital affair or may want to keep an affair secret.

"The usual reason when it involves a man is the [unborn] baby. The baby is causing a complication in his life," said Pat Brown, profiler and chief executive officer of The Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency.

Brown cites the infamous case of Scott Peterson, the Modesto, Calif., man convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and the unborn son they planned to name Conner. Prosecutors argued, in part, that Peterson killed his wife so that he could continue his extramarital affair with Amber Frey. A jury has recommended Peterson be executed for his crimes, and a judge is expected to sentence him to death on March 25.