Maine Bills Conflict on Violence Against Pregnant Women

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 7, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Maine Bills Conflict on Violence Against Pregnant Women Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 7
, 2005

Augusta, ME ( — The Maine legislature is considering a bill which would force judges to give “special weight” to the pregnancy of murder victims when sentencing their killers. But the move is seen by some as a legal maneuver to prevent the legislature from passing a bill that protects both mothers and their unborn children.

The legislation, sponsored by Senate President Beth Edmonds (D-Freeport) would also require the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse to collect and review data regarding the deaths of domestic abuse victims who were pregnant at the time they were killed.

However, pro-life activists say the legislation does not go far enough. That’s because the bill would not make it a separate crime to kill an unborn child, also a victim in such crimes.

Edmonds, who supports legal abortion, argues that passing an unborn victims bill “takes us to a place where we would need to define when life begins” and she is not ready to do that.

Under Edmonds’ bill, if a convicted killer knew or should have known that his victim was pregnant when he killed her, “a court shall assign special weight to this objective fact” in setting the sentence.

However, a pregnant women in a situation where the criminal did not know she was pregnant has no protection under the bill.

Edmonds told the Maine media her bill “encourages the judge to impose a prison sentence on the high end of the discretionary range” to show that society considers such crimes as “particularly reprehensible.”

Sarah Standiford of the Maine Women’s Lobby supports the legislation.

"This bill acknowledges what victims and domestic-violence advocates have known all along. Batterers frequently target the woman during pregnancy, to further their power and control of the victim," Standiford said.

Some 8 to 15 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. are battered by their husbands or boyfriends, according to recent research.

“Violence in an abusive relationship can increase when a woman is pregnant” and the legislation would help to produce data on that, according to state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara.

Cantara told the Maine press that the bill “would allow a court to give weight to the special circumstances of the (pregnant) murder victim and her heightened vulnerability.”

But, Lisa Roche of the Maine Right to Life Committee told the Portland Press Herald that, while collecting data about murders of pregnant women is worthwhile, Edmonds’ bill is a poor substitute for a law that would “recognize the unborn as a separate victim of a crime.”

Rep. Brian Duprey (R-Hampden), who is pro-life, has introduced a bill that would create several crimes against an unborn child, including homicide, if the child is old enough to live outside the womb.

The pro-abortion lobby claims Duprey’s bill would erode the legal right to an abortion, even though similar bills in other states have not done that.

Marc Mutty, a lobbyist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, told the Press Herald that Duprey’s bill is “rational and consistent with the undeniable truth that the fetus is indeed human.”

The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence opposes Duprey’s legislation. The coalition’s Kim Roberts told the Press Herald she believes that “fetuses are protected when abused women are protected.” Roberts claims that granting an unborn child separate legal safeguards could cause abused pregnant women to be charged with neglect.

However, the legal trend has been to enact legislation which ensures that unborn children are counted as crime victims. At least 32 states have fetal homicide laws. Such laws ensure that, when an act of lethal violence is committed against a pregnant woman, her child is considered a victim under the law.

Just over a year ago, Heather Sargent was killed when her husband stabbed her dozens of times. Sargent was eight months pregnant and both she and her son Jonah died as a result.

Maine had no unborn victims law at the time Heather was killed and her husband will only face charges resulting from her death.

Yet, in a cruel twist of fate, police found several dead cats at the Sargent’s home. In his rage, Sargent’s husband had killed them too. Ironically, under state law, Sargent can be imprisoned for as much as one year for each of the cats he killed, but, can’t be held liable for the death of a baby just a short time away from birth.

Cynthia Warner, Heather’s mother, also supports the Unborn Victims bill and wants the world to know that such crimes have two victims.