Hearing set on bill that would allow lawsuits for fetus deaths

Posted May 09, 2013, at 1:08 p.m.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — A state lawmaker’s bill to allow “the estates of unborn viable fetuses” to sue for wrongful death is scheduled for a public hearing next week in Augusta.

Republican Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, on Monday said her bill is an effort to bring Maine civil law into line with laws in 40 other states.

“This isn’t a radical concept,” Volk said. “It is just recognizing a loss to those people.”

The bill allows wrongful death civil lawsuits in cases involving fetuses at least 12 weeks old. It exempts from liability the mother, and any health care professional if the death is the result of a legal abortion.

Opponents, including state Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, and Shenna Bellows, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the bill sets precedents that will erode reproductive rights for women.

Similar bills have been enacted elsewhere in response to the 2002 killing in California of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Connor, by Peterson’s husband, Scott Peterson.

“The purpose is to allow to someone to collect if there is an act of negligence,” Volk said.

Now known as LD 1193, the bill is slated for a public hearing at 1 p.m. May 16 in the Judiciary Committee, with Valentino as chairwoman. Rep. Kimberly Monaghan-Derrig, D-Cape Elizabeth, is also on the committee.

On the same day, there will be hearings on two other bills, LD 760 and LD 1339, addressing “informed consent” for abortions and requiring parental consent for abortions performed on “minors and incapacitated persons.”

Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, is a cosponsor of both bills, and Volk is a cosponsor of LD 760.

Similar bills were rejected by legislators two years ago.

Volk’s bill has bipartisan support: Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford (a Judiciary Committee member), and Reps. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, and Lisa Villa, D-Harrison, are co-sponsors.

In a May 2 press release, Valentino expressed her opposition to all three pieces of legislation.

“We will not let Maine join so many other states, where those opposed to reproductive rights are chipping away at women’s fundamental right to privacy in health-care decisions,” Valentino said.

Volk said the exemptions in the bill recognize the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court without eroding its privacy provisions.

“It does not do that in any way,” she said.

Bellows sees the bill differently.

“Treating a woman as a separate legal entity from her fetus is a direct attack on Roe v. Wade,” she said.

Bellows said she is particularly concerned about the potential effects of conferring rights of estate to a fetus, although Volk said the language is needed in order for courts to hear a wrongful-death claim.

Bellows also said the provision exempting health-care practitioners if they are not aware of a pregnancy puts other providers at risk of lawsuits.

Volk said the 12-week designation was made because that is the time when couples typically announce a pregnancy to friends and family.

Maine Right to Life Committee Executive Director Teresa Tumidajski said 12 weeks is also typically when a woman has decided to continue her pregnancy, but she will leave it to the committee to determine what age a fetus will be before a wrongful death suit could be filed.

“Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, this is a justice issue which would afford women who choose life for their child the avenue by which to pursue civil action,” Tumidajski said. “I know Amy is very justice oriented, an honest women with great integrity.”

 

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