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Editorial: Laura and Reid's Law deserves consideration, but must alleviate pro-choice concerns

At a time when some believe the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision could be overturned and states are passing laws allowing for late-term abortions, any legislation that could potentially change the definition of a fetus is sure to generate some controversy. Such is the case with a bill, known as Laura and Reid’s Law, that is being proposed by two Carroll County lawmakers.

Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, and Del. Trent Kittleman, R-District 9A, have brought the legislation for the second consecutive year which, if passed, would enable prosecutors in Maryland to seek convictions for the killing of a fetus, defined in the bill as an unborn human offspring “from the end of the eighth week after fertilization until birth.”

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Eight weeks was chosen because it was the earliest you could prove or demonstrate someone knew the person they were hurting was pregnant, Ready said.

Current law allows prosecutors to bring charges against someone accused of murder or manslaughter of a “viable fetus,” that is, one that has a reasonable chance of surviving outside the womb by presiding medical professionals.

The proposed law is named for slain Howard County teacher Laura Wallen, who was about 4 months pregnant with a son she planned to name Reid, when she was shot and killed by her boyfriend in September 2017. Her boyfriend died in his jail cell the day his trial was set to begin last year.

It was a terrible tragedy, and Laura’s father, Mark Wallen, said at a press conference discussing the legislation this week that he believes his daughter was murdered because she was pregnant. He acknowledges legislation won’t change his family’s situation, but hopes the law may prevent future violence against pregnant women.

At the very least, it may provide justice for their families.

Homicide was the leading cause of death among pregnant and postpartum women in Maryland between 1993 and 2008, according to a Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report on intimate partner violence. A different study by the state’s health department found that there were 118 pregnancy‐associated homicides between 1993 and 2010.

Predictably, pro-choice advocates have opposed the legislation. Diana Philip, the executive director of NARAL-Pro Choice Maryland, said the organization is concerned the legislation “establishes an eight-week fetus as a person.” That, potentially, is something pro-life groups could point to as a legal precedent in the state.

Philip also wondered whether the bill could open the door to pregnant women being charged and convicted if there is a loss of pregnancy, for example.

Examination of the bill text seems to alleviate those concerns.

Current law, and the bill text, state that “Nothing in this section applies to or infringes on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy,” “Nothing in this section applies to an act or failure to act of a pregnant woman with regard to her own fetus,” and “Nothing in this section shall be construed to confer personhood or any rights on the fetus.”

Still, we suspect the bill may be a tough sell for pro-choice Democrats who would be needed to get any legislation passed in Annapolis. Last year, the bills were co-sponsored exclusively by Republican lawmakers. Thus far, the legislation has not drawn many co-sponsors though it is worth noting two Democrats, freshman Dels. Regina Boyce of Baltimore City and J. Sandy Bartlett of Anne Arundel County, have co-sponsored the House version of the bill.

Bipartisan support will be needed to move the legislation forward, and it’s worth noting that most legislation takes several years to gain support for passage.

Laura and Reid’s Law warrants support, but it may take time to alleviate concerns about how it may affect a woman’s right to choose, and ultimately become law.

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