RALEIGH, North Carolina, April 21, 2011 ( – Democrat Gov. Bev Perdue has signed into law a measure makes it a crime to kill or harm an unborn child in a violent attack on the mother.

The law is named for Jenna Nielsen’s unborn son, Ethen. Nielsen, a 22-year-old newspaper carrier with two young children, was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant with Ethen when she was stabbed to death June 14, 2007 outside a Raleigh convenience store. Nielsen was restocking USA Today papers, as a way to supplement her husband’s income before the birth of their newest baby, when she was murdered.


Gov. Perdue, who emphasized that she is an advocate for legal abortion, stated on Friday that she was signing the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act” in order to send a strong message that attacks on pregnant women would not be tolerated in the state.

“I do support punishing any person who would attack or kill a pregnant woman. I sign this bill today to show that support,” said the governor, in a statement obtained by the Associated Press.

Perdue added that since she is both a mother and a grandmother, “I know the powerful instinct of a mother to protect her children, and I know how I would feel if anyone had harmed my daughters-in-law or me when we were pregnant.”

Both the state House and Senate had passed the measure with veto-proof majorities.

“This bill was about the invisible: the women of NC who have been murdered – some high profile, some not – in many cases because they were pregnant,” said Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth), a co-sponsor of the bill. “We know that Ethen’s law will punish, and if it prevents one death, it will be worth it.”

Despite police saying that the Nielsen murder was “very solvable,” almost four years have passed with no arrests having been made.

The family maintains a site called, and has made passage of the bill a priority as part of the effort to get justice for other pregnant victims of violence and their unborn children.

The law says that attackers of pregnant women can be charged by prosecutors with manslaughter, assault, and battery on unborn children, in addition to murder. The perpetrator does not have to know that his victim was pregnant in order to be charged.

A provision, however, stresses that the measures in Ethen’s law do not apply to legal abortion.

North Carolina now joins 35 other states and the federal government in recognizing unborn children as separate victims in crimes perpetrated against their mothers.