Battered women

January 22, 1991

Both by temperament and by politics, Rep. Connie Morella is ideally suited to raise the issue of domestic violence and spousal abuse to a national level. Having introduced legislation in Congress to protect and shelter abuse victims, Morella now has gained the ear of Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Last week, at her suggestion, Schaefer visited the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup and talked face-to-face with women who have been convicted of killing or assaulting mates who abused them.

Schaefer's visit followed a recent decision by Ohio's governor, Richard Celeste, to commute the sentences of 25 women imprisoned on similar charges. Celeste was empowered to do this by a law passed by his state's legislature that allowed evidence of repeated abuse to be introduced as a defense in the trials of such women. At present, Maryland has no comparable law.

Critics fear such a law might encourage more women to kill their husbands. Nonsense. Every year, 3 million to 4 million women are abused by husbands or boyfriends; some 3,000 die as a result. But about 1,200 strike back. Many are victims of what experts call "battered woman syndrome," a condition which renders them psychologically incapable of escaping their situation. A law allowing evidence of continued abuse to be considered by a jury does not sanction murder, it merely ensures all relevant evidence will be taken into account.

Such a bill is pending in the General Assembly. Governor Schaefer came away from his Jessup meeting promising to consider supporting it. That would go a long way toward ensuring that justice will not be blind to the plight of abused women.

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