With the fight for the Republican nomination in full swing, abortion is in the news once again. And that’s only going to be more true as Maryland watches the trial of two out-of-state doctors who were indicted on murder charges last month stemming from a 2010 abortion.
Thirty-eight states have a law on the books allowing for murder charges against someone who kills a viable fetus. Til now, that law has only been used against defendants who were charged with assaulting or killing a pregnant woman. The facts in this case are quite different, though disturbing in their own way: Dr. Steven Brigham (of New Jersey) and Dr. Nicola Riley (of Utah) botched an abortion on a woman who was 21 weeks pregnant, rupturing her uterus and injuring her bowels. When authorities searched the clinic, they found a freezer with 35 late-term fetuses inside. Brigham’s methods sound sleazy — according to the Guardian, for women seeking abortions after the first trimester, Brigham would begin abortion procedures in New Jersey, then have his patients drive themselves to Maryland to finish.
But there are larger questions at play here. According to Maryland law, anyone “intend[ing] to cause the death of the viable fetus” can be charged with murder; the law also states that it’s not intended to infringe on a woman’s right to an abortion. (Late-term abortions are legal in Maryland; the pro-choice organization NARAL gives the state an “A” for its laws regarding reproductive rights.) The charges against Brigham may lead to a court battle over whether he aborted “viable” fetuses. “This is probably the first case that Maryland has ever seen with this factual scenario using this statute. It’s a unique situation,” said Cecil County State’s Attorney Ellis Rollins. Stay tuned for updates.
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