ANNAPOLIS – A bill to make assault against a pregnant woman a double crime ended its roller-coaster escapade through the Senate in a dead end Wednesday, as lawmakers narrowly decided to indefinitely postpone a vote on the bill.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would make assault or murder of a pregnant woman a crime against both the woman and the fetus, was approved by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but its success ended there.
The bill spent a week on the Senate floor, before an amendment was brought by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George’s.
At that point, the bill had been stripped of any fetus protection, but opponents had agreed to institute harsher penalties for assaults against pregnant women. Green’s amendment kept the tougher penalties for women fewer than 20 weeks pregnant, but reinstituted the double crime for later-term pregnancies.
Under that amendment, harming a fetus after 20 weeks would count as two felonies, but have varying consequences: up to 10 years in prison if prosecutors couldn’t prove intent to cause a miscarriage and up to 25 years in prison if intent could be proven.
The bill’s two-tiered system confused many lawmakers, who said assaults during late-term pregnancy would result in more lenient penalties.
The amendment’s implications befuddled even Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, who rescheduled the bill so lawmakers could get the story straight.
Confusion remained even after a letter from Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe.
With only 12 days left in the legislative session, opponents grabbed at the chance to dismiss the bill, saying kinks could be worked out after lawmakers left town.
“While this bill might have merit to some people on this floor, it’s not ripe, and it’s not ready for prime time,” said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore City. “The attorney general’s opinion was conflictual and there’s work that needs to be done.”
A sister bill in the House was knocked down by committee last week, 13-11. The combination of actions virtually eliminates the possibility of the legislation resurfacing this session.
The motion to indefinitely postpone was introduced by Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, D-Baltimore.
It’s a tactic that hasn’t been used for years, said Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore County, who criticized lawmakers for not taking time to deliberate the issue.
The bill reopened the issue of Roe vs. Wade with its use of the term “unborn child.” Many legislators said it was a step toward chipping away reproductive rights.
Others argued that cases such as the slaying of Laci Peterson and her unborn son in California in 2002 prove an unborn victim’s statute is necessary.
A federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which passed Congress last week, is awaiting a signature from President Bush. It applies to victims of federal crimes and to federal employees assaulted while at work.
“We’re creating two classes of people,” said Green, arguing that all Maryland’s citizens should be protected, not just federal employees.