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Md. fetal homicide law should protect fetuses younger than 24 weeks

Md. fetal homicide law should protect fetuses younger than 24 weeks
Mark and Gwen Wallen surrounded by family talk with media outside of Maryland District Court in Rockville on Thursday, September 14, 2017. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Almost one year to the date, on Sept. 4, the man who brutally cut short the life of our daughter, Laura Wallen, and robbed us of our grandson Reid is scheduled to stand trial in Montgomery County Court. It is a day my wife and I have waited for since his arrest. It is a day we have dreaded.

As a father, I never imagined I would be awaiting the trial of the man who took my daughter and her unborn son from us. And I never thought I’d be pleading for change so that families like ours are no longer denied justice when a loved one is taken away so violently.

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Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch has promised to make protecting women and their reproductive rights a top priority in next year’s legislative session. I ask Mr. Busch to truly uphold his promise. I beg him to use his power to protect all women, not just women who choose to end their pregnancies, but also women like Laura, who choose to have their babies.

The day Laura was killed, our family was robbed of not one but two generations. But there will be no justice for our grandson Reid when the jury hands down its verdict. There will be no justice because Maryland only allows charging fetal homicide when someone attacks and kills the fetus of a woman who is at least 24 weeks pregnant. Laura was 14 weeks pregnant with Reid when she was killed.

The attorney for our daughter’s killer has asked the judge to exclude evidence of Laura’s pregnancy and the accused’s paternity from trial, arguing it is “not relevant” because he’s not charged with the murder of their unborn son. We have no doubt Laura was killed because she was pregnant. We have no doubt her killer wanted both her and Reid dead.

Maryland’s laws are among the strongest in the nation for protecting the reproductive rights of women who choose not to have children. But when it comes to protecting the choices of women like Laura, who choose to be mothers, 34 states — including California — have stronger fetal homicide laws than we do. As a result, Maryland women are 10 times more likely to be victims of pregnancy-associated homicide than the national average. These are statistics I never thought I would have to learn.

Earlier this year, my family asked the General Assembly to pass Laura and Reid’s Law — a bill that would strengthen Maryland’s fetal homicide law to protect fetuses younger than 24 weeks and provide justice to families like ours who are robbed of future generations by violent crimes. We asked the General Assembly to act, and the General Assembly did nothing. And nothing will happen until powerful leaders like Mr. Busch truly stand up and protect all Maryland women by using their clout to pass Laura and Reid’s Law.

We will only know Reid as our beloved grandson, and the joy and glow of pregnancy in what were Laura’s final days. We will never get to see him take his first steps, graduate from high school or grow up to have a family of his own.

It took the death of Laci Peterson and her unborn son Conner in 2002 for Congress to pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and for the strongly pro-choice state of California to strengthen its laws, better protecting pregnant women and fetuses as young as 8 weeks.

How many Lacis, Lauras, Connors and Reids will be enough for Maryland to do the same? As long as our legislators fail to act, victims of these crimes will continually be denied justice. I ask that 2019 be the year when Maryland lawmakers finally stand up and protect all women’s choices in our state.

Mark Wallen (mwallen@nsurgical.com) is the father of the late Laura Wallen and grandfather of the late Reid. He and his wife Gwen are the leading advocates for the passage Laura and Reid’s Law.

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