Donna Paradis, seven months pregnant, was just murdered in Lewiston. Her killer can be brought to justice for her death, but not the death of her unborn child. In this state, justice for her child is unavailable.

Because if you want to see lawmakers do a soft-shoe through a political minefield, ask them about the statutory rights of the unborn. Many politicians would prefer bamboo shoots under the fingernails than give a straight answer.

And, to avoid the question, they’ll ascend to Olympian heights of legislative timidity. This is the only rationale why Maine still lacks strong unborn victims laws, which define penalties for injury or murder of fetal Americans.

Two years ago, though, lawmakers in Augusta debated two bills to create penalties for crimes like fetal homicide. One, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Duprey, sought to create criminal classifications for assaults against the unborn.

The House and Senate split along party lines on the measure, which led to a flaccid version being enacted. Public Law No. 208 now says causing “serious bodily injury” or death to a fetus is “elevated aggravated assault.”

That’s right. In Maine, killing a pregnant woman is murder. Killing her unborn child is assault.

The other bill, sponsored by Sen. Beth Edmonds, stiffened penalties for crimes against pregnant women. It was shunted into a data-collection activity, the legislative equivalent of being whipped into limbo.

Edmonds avoided trying to define life in her bill, because, she said, it would take Maine “to a place it doesn’t want to go.” It was a statement of political expediency – debating such a definition would have imperiled the bill.

She should have just gone for it. Her bill died anyway, just like Heather Sargent, an inspiration for the legislation. The pregnant Bangor woman was murdered in 2004 by her no-good husband Roscoe, who after stabbing her 47 times and stuffing her into a laundry sack, emptied their account and ordered champagne and Chinese takeout.

Roscoe got 50 years for killing her. But for killing his unborn son, Jonah, he got nothing. This same fate awaits whoever killed Donna Paradis. They will pay for one crime, but not the other.

The knowing murder of an unborn child is separate from abortion. Pro-choice advocates, however, fear unborn victim laws will infringe upon abortion rights, by perhaps criminalizing a woman’s right to choose. Yet this issue has transcended pro-life or pro-choice rhetoric in 36 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

About every state defines their unborn victim law differently, in respect to political and public sensibilities. Within these varied definitions, there must be one right for Maine to model.

Since as long as Roe vs. Wade exists, there’s nothing Augusta lawmakers can do to change its legal status. They can, however, ensure killers are punished for who they kill. To do so, they must dictate punishments for ending a life.

This doesn’t require also defining where it begins.

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