An unlikely place for compromise


In a Legislature bitterly divided by partisanship, the last place to expect a compromise is in the area of abortion. Somehow, however, legislators were able to craft a deal on fetal homicide legislation that satisfies both sides.

After a bout of name-calling and finger-pointing, the Legislature on Monday OK’d a bill that would stiffen the penalties for someone convicted of assaulting a pregnant woman. The legislation is an alternative to a bill submitted by Rep. Brian Duprey, a staunch foe of abortion rights. His bill would have written into law two new crimes: fetal murder and fetal manslaughter.

Supporters of abortion rights argue that the true intent of Duprey’s proposal was to undermine the legality of the procedure and to establish in law that a fetus has the same rights as a person. While Duprey says otherwise, such fetal murder laws have become proxy fights around the country as abortion opponents have changed tactics. Instead of a frontal assault on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, the ruling’s detractors have focused on making it more difficult to receive an abortion. Developing case law that recognizes a fetus as a person is part of that effort.

Both sides, however, were able to agree that state law has contained a deficiency crying out for a remedy, namely that pregnant women are too often the victims of assault. Despite the aggravating circumstances, there was no provision in the law to increase the punishment against batterers who attack a pregnant woman. The compromise will create the new crime of aggravated assault on a pregnant person, with a possible sentence of up to 30 years in prison. Under the bill’s guidelines, the crime has occurred if an attack causes injuries that lead to pregnancy’s termination.

By specifying that abortion and other medical procedures are not covered by the statute, lawmakers were able to avoid the pitfalls of the pro-choice versus pro-life fight. Instead, they were able to create new protections for pregnant women and demonstrate the state’s intolerance for violence against them.

Perhaps no issue divides politicians like abortion, and hard-core advocates on both sides will quibble with the outcome. Yet, a compromise was possible. A common goal – agreeable to both sides, despite profound differences of opinion about the underlying issue – was achieved.

Why is it possible on this incendiary topic, but impossible on others?