The Maine Senate on Monday narrowly rejected a bill that would give legal standing to a human fetus in the event of an assault on a pregnant woman. The measure now moves to the House for additional debate.
The bill, LD 1463, is sponsored by Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, who argued before the Senate that a change in Maine law is needed to bring justice to women and families who lose “unborn children” in a domestic assault or other deliberate attack against a pregnant woman.
After lengthy debate, the Senate rejected the measure in an 18-15 vote. Six Republicans voted against it and one Democrat voted in favor. Sen. Richard Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth, voted against the measure. Democrats Seth Goodall of Richmond and Nancy Sullivan of Biddeford were absent.
Existing Maine law considers pregnancy an aggravating condition of an assault or murder and requires the sentencing judge to impose additional punishment on the perpetrator. Supporters of Plowman’s bill say Maine’s law doesn’t go far enough.
Modeled after the federal “Laci and Conner’s” law, the measure in Maine would create new prosecutable crimes in state law, including murder, felony murder, manslaughter, assault, aggravated assault and elevated aggravated assault against an unborn child. Punishment would be consistent with existing penalties for the same crimes committed against an adult.
The bill was supported in public hearing by pro-life organizations including the Catholic Diocese of Maine, the Maine Right to Life Coalition and the Christian Civic League of Maine. It was opposed by women’s rights organizations, family planning groups and the Maine Civil Liberties Union.
Language in Plowman’s bill excludes women from prosecution for killing or injuring their own unborn children. It also specifically states that the crimes named in the law cannot be applied to an abortion to which a pregnant woman has consented.
Plowman said the bill poses no threat to existing abortion rights under Roe v. Wade and that similar legislation in 36 other states has been upheld after constitutional challenges. All the bill aims to do is confirm that “the loss of an unborn child is considered an offense worthy of its own prosecution,” she said.
But those speaking in opposition, including several Senate Democrats, warned that the term “unborn child” has no accepted legal or medical definition and that the measure is a veiled attempt to erode abortion rights. Similar laws in other states have resulted in pregnant women being prosecuted for crimes against their fetuses, opponents said.
Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said the bill actually would undermine the interests of both mother and baby in cases of substance abuse, domestic violence or suicidal thinking. Instead of seeking treatment for such risky behaviors and conditions, he said, women could fear being prosecuted if they report their concerns.
“This bill is an assault against women’s autonomy, privacy and medical decision [making],” said Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth. Dill, a practicing civil rights attorney, said existing Maine law is sufficient to protect against harm to a fetus and that the change proposed by Plowman’s bill would pit the interests of a pregnant woman against those of the developing fetus.
The bill, she said, “subjects women to unprecedented levels of government intrusion.”