Skip to comments.(Maine)Senate Dems Head Off Vote on Fetus Bill ("They're Cowards," Cries Aunt of Murdered Mom)
Posted on 06/10/2005 9:04:38 AM PDT by fight_truth_decay
GOP lawmaker denounces move as 'cowardly,' 'gutless'
AUGUSTA - A procedural move Thursday by Senate Democrats could end chances of passing a fetal homicide bill this session.
The bill would create a set of new crimes in Maine including "the murder of an unborn child, manslaughter of an unborn child and assault on an unborn child."
The Senate late Thursday afternoon voted 21-14, along party lines, to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee.
A supporter of the bill called the Senate Democrats' maneuver "cowardly" and "gutless."
The House of Representatives today is expected to consider whether it will concur with the Senate and send the measure back to committee, essentially holding it over until the next legislative session.
If that happens, the earliest the Legislature could reconsider the matter would be January.
The House on Tuesday rejected the Judiciary Committee's ought-not-pass recommendation 76-68, then passed it without additional roll calls before sending it to the Senate on Wednesday, where it was tabled until Thursday.
Supporters were not hopeful that House Democrats would defy their colleagues in the Senate. Such procedural votes almost always are passed no matter how House members voted on the measure.If the House refuses to send the bill back to committee, the Senate could be forced to vote on the measure before adjournment next week.
"This is a procedural move so they [Senate Democrats] don't have to be on the record as having voted against it," said Rep. Darren Hall, R-Holden, a co-sponsor of the bill. "The Democrats don't believe they have enough votes to defeat it, so they're afraid to hold a vote because they're afraid it might pass."
Hall described the parliamentary procedure as "cowardly" and "gutless," but said that it did not surprise him.
"I expected they would do whatever they could to derail this bill however they could," he said.
The recent passage of a federal fetal homicide law, called the Laci and Connor bill after the notorious California case in which Scott Peterson was convicted of two counts of murder for killing his pregnant wife and unborn son, has affected the debate.
Legislators also have been lobbied by the aunts of a pregnant Bangor woman murdered by her husband 21/2 years ago.
In emotional testimony before the Judiciary Committee last month that included an autopsy photo of the 34-week-old fetus that died when their niece was murdered, Kristen Eckmann of Hudson and Kristy Fowler Eckmann of Dedham asked the committee to pass LD 262 and create a state law similar to the one passed by Congress last year.
Roscoe Sargent, 30, murdered his pregnant wife, Heather Fliegelman Sargent, 20, on Jan. 4, 2003, at their residence in the Rainbow Trailer Park in Bangor. Two days later, police found her body and four dead cats in the couple's bedroom. She had been stabbed 47 times.
Sargent was convicted last year of murdering his wife after a jury-waived trial in Penobscot County Superior Court. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was not charged in the death of his unborn son because Maine's homicidelaw does not apply to fetuses.
The bill garnered support from pro-life legislators and lobbyists and opposition from pro-choice lawmakers and organizations.
Emotions on both sides of the aisle have run high, according to legislators.
Sen. Mary Black Andrews, R-York, urged senators to vote against sending it back to committee.
"This bill has created a lot of emotional turmoil for all of us," she said. "Let's have the courage to deal with it and vote it up or down."
Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, told the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday that it is "probably the most emotionally driven bill from a lobbying standpoint that we've had" since the Legislature passed a civil rights law earlier this year.
Hobbins on Thursday made the motion on the Senate floor to send the bill back to committee. He did not offer a reason for the move.
Efforts to reach him Thursday were unsuccessful.
Supporters of the bill have denied that it is an attempt to undermine a woman's access to abortion.
The bill specifically states that it does not change the meaning of abortion, according to a sponsor, Rep. Brian Duprey, R-Hampden, and is applicable only if the fetus is killed during the third trimester.
The bill "has absolutely nothing to do with abortion," Marc Mutty of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which endorsed it, has said. "The bill recognizes the existence of human life in the womb at the stage of viability." ("It's called using every slimy trick to kill a bill."-Mutty in the PressHerald)
Opponents, however, have expressed concern that the bill's definition of "unborn child" could create legal safeguards for a fetus and undermine abortion rights.
"The intent of this legislation is to establish separate rights for the fetus in the criminal code," Sarah Standiford of the Maine Women's Lobby told the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday, "and that should be of concern to all Maine women."
Standiford said that passage of such laws is part of a national strategy to undermine Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Maine is on a shrinking list of states - one of 18 - that have no laws governing the injury or death of a fetus. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 32 states have fetal homicide laws.
In at least 15 states, the law applies to the earliest stages of pregnancy. Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the only New England states that have passed fetal homicide laws.
The U.S. Congress last year passed a bill making it a separate offense to harm a fetus during the commission of a federal crime.
Maine's two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, split their votes on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Snowe voted against the bill, but Collins voted for it.
Democratic Reps. Tom Allen and Michael Michaud of Maine voted against the bill.
Many legislators have been skeptical of the bill because Duprey has sponsored many bills to limit abortion rights, including a bill that sought to make it illegal to abort a fetus based on what it called "the projected sexual orientation of the fetus after birth."
Fowler Eckmann, who was in Augusta talking with legislators this week, said Thursday that at least one legislator told her he supported the bill but would vote against it because Duprey was the prime sponsor.
She said after the Senate vote Thursday that her initial reaction was "an emotional meltdown," her first since her niece's and great-nephew's funerals.
The mother of two young children said that her family would continue their fight to change the law in Maine.
"We'll be back," she said
This bill creates the new crimes of murder, felony murder, assault, aggravated assault and elevated aggravated assault against an unborn child. Punishment for these crimes is consistent with penalties for the same offenses committed against persons as defined in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 17-A, chapter 9.
These crimes against unborn children do not apply to an abortion to which the pregnant woman has consented, nor do they apply to acts committed pursuant to usual and customary standards of medical practice during diagnostic or therapeutic treatment. These crimes do not apply to the pregnant woman.
For purposes of this bill, an unborn child is defined "as an individual of the human species from the state of fetal development when the life of the fetus may be continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or artificial life- supportive systems until birth".
Abortion-rights activists say a fetal-homicide law is unnecessary in Maine because the Legislature passed a law this year ordering judges to give "special weight" to a woman's pregnancy when sentencing anyone who is convicted of murder or other crimes against a pregnant woman.
Anti-abortion activists say the "special-weight" law, known as the Motherhood Protection Act, does not impose stiffer penalties on criminals who prey on pregnant women and does not allow prosecutors to bring separate charges for the death of a fetus.
Roscoe Sargent, 30, murdered his pregnant wife, Heather Fliegelman Sargent, 20, on Jan. 4, 2003"They're cowards," a tearful Kristi Fowler Eckmann of Dedham, who sat in the Senate chamber during the vote, said of the senators who backed more committee review. Her niece, Heather Sargent of Bangor, was eight months pregnant when Sargent's husband killed her in 2003.
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Mr.B wants this bill to pass..
He's outnumbered up there..
He's been fighting hard...
Holy Cow Maine Ping!
What does it take to wake maine up?
Is it me or is Brian Duprey the only Maine legislator with any common sense? We need him to run for governor or for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Well, at least he was convicted of murder. Vella Gogan, who killed her husband and chopped his body into little pieces and hid the pieces around the state only got manslughter and a sentance of a few years. Or Malia Lowery who shot her boyfriend in the head while he was sleeping, manslaughter and 8 years. Or Amy Dugas who was out on bail for assaulting her husband, and then stabbed him through the heart in a drunken rage when he threatened to leave her. She walked.
Duprey has used some absurd tactics to point out the absurdity in Augusta, and has made quite a name for himself. If more legislators were like him, I might return to Maine, where I lived for 30 years. (To the DAY - it was a nice birthday give to move away and keep MUCH more of my paycheck.)
Keep fighting, Brian!