Panel approves giving unborn legal status

General Assembly

March 23, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Maryland is a step closer to enacting a state version of the proposed Laci and Conner federal law, after a Senate committee approved a bill yesterday to outlaw bringing intentional harm to an unborn child.

Members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 7-4 to send the bill to the floor, barely a week after a brief hearing on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

Among the testimony presented to the committee was a letter from Sharon Rocha, whose daughter Laci Peterson was killed two years ago in Modesto, Calif., one month before she was due to give birth. Because California law recognizes murder as the "unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus," Peterson's husband, Scott, has been charged with her death and the death of their unborn son, Conner - making him eligible for California's death penalty if convicted.

Under Maryland law, the killer of a pregnant woman could only be charged with a single count of murder, and the assault of a pregnant woman that causes the death of her unborn child results in charges related to the mother's injuries.

Abortion-rights advocates, who filed written testimony against the bill because it grants "personhood" to a fetus, said Maryland law is as it should be.

"Any legislative efforts to equate the harm to pregnancy with the harm to a pregnant woman should be viewed as an overt attempt to undermine the Roe v. Wade decision and should be rejected," said a flier from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Cynthia L. Golumb, legislative counsel for the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, also opposed the bill, arguing that it appears "to separate a pregnant woman and her fetus in the eyes of the law."

Proponents of the legislation, including some members of the Senate committee, argued that the bill wasn't about abortion.

"This is a very good tool if a man abuses his wife and causes the death of her child, that's how I see it," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican from Cecil and Harford counties.

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