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August 6, 2007

A Tragic End to an Annapolis Debate

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

House Bill 398, introduced in the 2005 Session of the Maryland General Assembly, was introduced as a result of cases such as the infamous Peterson murders in California. In that case, Scott Peterson was charged with the murder of his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn child.

The bill, as introduced, subjects someone who murders an unborn child to the criminal penalties faced by the murder of another human being. Wrapped up in this debate is the whole question of abortion.

My own position is that while I consider abortion to be wrong, I am not in a position to pass judgment on another human being's choices and decisions. A woman who chooses to abort a pregnancy and terminate that life has to answer to herself, her family, and her faith.

Someone who inflicts violence on a pregnant woman should be subject to a serious (and additional) penalty for murdering an unborn child. Unfortunately, the abortion rights activists have been fighting to retain the fairly open access to abortion procedures in Maryland for so long that they immediately assume any bill even remotely related to fetal death is another conservative assault on abortion.

This time, they were wrong. The motivation here wasn't hidden, and there was no secret agenda. The purpose here was as stated, to hold someone fully accountable for the death of an unborn child resulting from a wanton act of violence.

The policy mill of Annapolis is both a benefit and detriment to the development of meaningful outcomes; positive in that an idea is forced through levels of scrutiny and debate, as well as analysis and argument. These competing forces often result in a better bill, a more thoughtful legislative solution, than an idea that bypasses this process.

The downside comes when special interest groups and issue advocates cloud a pretty clear purpose to protect their paycheck or organization. Such was the case with the HB 398.

Liberal and progressive legislators, fearful of even the perception of the erosion of abortion rights and access, fought hard to include language in HB 398 to protect any abortion procedures from ever falling into this definition, even though the original bill specifically excluded abortions.

The pro-choice advocates also watered down the language to protect the actions of a pregnant woman, thinking that a blanket protection would ensure that a woman who chose to seek an abortion for her pregnancy might never fall under penalty.

It was never the intent of the sponsors of HB 398 to have it apply to a woman who chose an abortion procedure, hence the exclusion. How do I know this? I was one of the original sponsors, that's why!

So, the bill saw a great flurry of floor activity. It was brought out of the Judiciary Committee, debated on second reading, and actually re-committed to the committee during the floor debate. That action is often dooms a bill, but not this time. With so much national press in the Peterson case, even the progressive pro-choicers didn't want to be blamed for killing this idea. They just wanted to add some amendments to satisfy the advocacy groups. That's all.

So, they did the bidding of their progressive policy advocates, and brought the bill back to the floor. With those amendments, it easily passed the full House. The Senate proved a tougher hurdle, with a number of frivolous and "poison pill" amendments attempted before the bill passed with a simple majority. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., quickly signed it into law.

Now Maryland has a law entitled Homicide of a Viable Fetus, all thanks to the work of the General Assembly. The bill establishes that a person can be charged with the murder of a viable fetus, but exempts abortion procedures from the application of the law. Remember that the original sponsors had fully intended that exemption, but the progressives insisted on more clear and specific exemption language.

So, why, you ask, review the background on a bill that was forced through the legislative sausage press in 2005? Well, there was one additional exclusion that the progressives insisted on before bringing the bill to the floor for a vote.

This provision exempts the acts of a pregnant woman as related to her own fetus.

The national news has focused in recent days on our own Ocean City. A well-known Ocean City business owner has been the subject of horrific national news coverage and a grisly search and recovery effort on her own property.

Investigators recovered several human remains, all apparently children, both born and unborn, allegedly belonging to Christy Freeman.

Law enforcement officials in Ocean City and Wicomico County initially charged Ms. Freeman with multiple murders of viable fetuses under the statute passed in 2005. Immediately, questions arose about the provision insisted upon by the pro-choice advocates.

The details sicken me, and make it impossible to document the allegations here. Frankly, there's already been so much detail reported locally and nationally that we should all be spared any further recounting.

Subsequently, the prosecutor has determined the charges problematic, and has revised his charging document with the death of one child, who appears to have died before the statute was enacted. Ms. Freemen is now charged with the first-degree murder of one of her twins, allegedly born in 2003.

I wonder if the progressives who insisted on the broad exemptions will regret their decision; and what does it say about a policy debate that several children might have been murdered, but those deaths will never result in criminal charges to protect future abortion procedures?

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