The 2018 General Assembly Session concluded last month in Annapolis. Of all the issues that I worked on, none hit closer to home or had more resonance with me as a husband and father than the presentation and debate over Laura and Reid’s Law.
Laura Wallen was a beloved teacher and an expectant mother. On September 3rd, 2017, Laura was taken from her family, friends, and students. Her boyfriend and father of her unborn child, Tyler Tessier, murdered her savagely in cold blood. Tessier was charged with first degree murder for Laura’s death, but since the unborn child, whom Laura had already given a name to – Reid - was only 14 weeks in development, and not yetviable outside the womb, the State’s Attorney could not charge Tessier with Reid’s murder.
In interrogations and testimony it has become absolutely clear that Tessier killed Laura precisely because she was pregnant. While it’s good that the State’s Attorney is prosecuting Laura’s murder to the fullest extent of the law, what would have happened if she had somehow survived but Reid had still died. Sadly, this kind of situation is not a completely unusual occurrence. According to research conducted by Johns Hopkins, the second leading cause of death amongst women of child-bearing age in the United States is murder – and about half of those murders are done by intimate partners – boyfriends, husbands, or ex-partners. Women are, statistically, at a much greater risk for domestic violence while pregnant as unbelievable as that may seem.
During the Session, I introduced SB-533 which we called Laura and Reid’s Law, to expand the application of prosecution for the murder or manslaughter of a pregnant woman’s fetus. The legislation was carefully written to protect an unborn baby in the specific instance of purposeful murder or manslaughter but special interests who defend abortion opposed the bill – even though it was written carefully to avoid roping in any medical procedures. These groups would not concede to any changesin fetal homicide law and they have a lot of clout in Annapolis.
Because of this opposition, despite attempts to amend the bill, we could not get a committee vote this year, but I feel like we made significant progress voicing the issue and building momentum for next year.
We were able to build a strong network from Marylanders with various political ideologies. Supporters were able to share this important legislative goal with the hashtag #ReidToo. The Wallens received widespread community support in their attempt to get full justice for Laura and Reid.
We still have work to do to break through some of the misinformation and confusion about what the bill would impact and what it would not.
While we are disappointed that we were unable to get Laura and Reid’s Law through this Session, I am focused on finding a way to get the bill passed next year if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected. We must be sure that justice is done for vulnerable women and babies like Laura and Reid.
I also appreciate the strong support I received on this issue frommy partners,Delegates Susan Krebs, April Rose and Haven Shoemaker as they helped me and Delegate Trent Kittleman, the House sponsor, push the legislation forward and spread the word. We definitely need them to come back to Annapolis to continue the fight.
As always, I’m happy to hear from you on any issues of concern or questions. It’s an honor to serve Carroll County in the State Senate.
Justin Ready is a State Senator representing District 5, and a resident of Manchester