When Texas law enforcement officials tallied the victims of the massacre at Sutherland Springs, Texas they included a victim who never saw the light of day. Crystal Holcombe, the mother of five children, was killed between the pews and she was pregnant with a baby.

Since the unborn child Holcombe was carrying also died, the baby is considered a separate person. This legal classification is the law for Texas, but the actual definition of a living person and how homicide laws are applied to it differ between states.

When is a child ‘alive’ enough to be a victim?

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 38 states currently equating “children in utero” with born humans. According to The New York Times, federal law considers unborn children as human beings, meaning people who harm the child can be prosecuted as if they harmed a child who is alive outside of the womb.

Every state has different definitions of “child” within the context of the law. For instance, some states protect the unborn child if it is a victim of a crime, but if the mother decides to have an abortion then the child is not considered a victim, and the doctor performing the abortion cannot be prosecuted.

What about abortion rights?

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that pro-life groups, such as the National Right to Life, support laws protecting unborn children. They view laws such as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 as stepping stones toward future legislation to ban abortions.

Surprisingly, the pro-abortion groups are not dead set against laws protecting unborn children.

The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) believe in laws protecting pregnant women, but they oppose any laws identifying unborn children as separate individuals. They see acts like the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 as potential inroads towards prosecuting doctors who perform abortions.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) takes a similar stance, stating in a paper posted on their website, “Permitting legal actions on behalf of stillborn fetuses or enacting laws to protect fetuses opens a Pandora's box in terms of how the law treats pregnancy and childbirth.”

This is just another example of the wide variance between laws of states and the federal government. For now, the protection of unborn children will remain up to the individual states, and abortion will still (as a result of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade) remain a constitutional right.