Normally, reproductive rights and death penalty issues do not intersect, but at the very end of session, they did. SB 982, SB 984 and HB 3505 were all introduced in response to the horrendous murder that occurred in Beaverton resulting in the death of a pregnant woman and the stillbirth of her infant. As explained below, ACLU opposed all three proposals.
SB 982 redefined “human being” in Oregon law to include an “unborn child” at any stage of fetal development and expanded the aggravated murder statute to cover the new definition of “human being.” Article I, section 40 of the Oregon Constitution authorizes the death penalty in aggravated murder convictions. ACLU opposed both aspects of this proposal. Defining “human being” to include a fetus at any stage of development would grant the fetus constitutional rights equal to the pregnant woman. We also oppose the death penalty and any efforts to expand it in Oregon. Led by Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro), the chief sponsor, there was a motion on the Senate floor to withdraw the bill from committee, which would have required a vote on the merits of SB 982 by the Senate. The motion to withdraw was defeated, and the bill died in committee.
WIN: FAILED ON SENATE FLOOR
**Scorecard Vote - Senate
In response to SB 982, SB 984 was introduced by Sen. Peter Courtney (D-Salem). It expanded the aggravated murder statute, which authorizes the use of the death penalty, to include the murder of a pregnant woman if the defendant “knew or reasonably should have known” that the victim was pregnant, but did not redefine the definition of “human being.” ACLU opposed SB 984 because it expanded the death penalty. ACLU testified against SB 984 before the Senate Rules Committee. It died in committee because HB 3505 (see below) became the consensus bill.
HB 3505 was introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators. HB 3505, like its counterpart on the Senate side, SB 984, expanded the death penalty for killing a pregnant woman. It required that the defendant knew the woman was pregnant. HB 3505 was heard in the House Rules Committee, where it was amended to remove the death penalty provision. Instead, the final version of HB 3505 elevates the penalty for the crime of killing a pregnant woman to life in prison without the possibility of parole, unless the jury finds there is mitigating evidence that justifies a lesser sentence of 30 years.
ACLU was the lone opposition to HB 3505 (our pro-choice coalition partners supported the final version) because it enhances the sentence of killing a pregnant woman, alone, without any additional result, such as a stillbirth or miscarriage. Murdering anyone is a heinous crime, but we believe that the severity of punishment should not be based solely on the fact that the victim was pregnant. The proponents talked about the need to elevate punishment because of the vulnerability of a pregnant woman. But there are many others in our society who would also be considered vulnerable victims, but their murder would not elevate punishment. Because the consideration of HB 3505 occurred so late in session and so quickly, we were unable to adequately raise our objections to legislators, and we believe most legislators were not aware of our opposition. HB 3505 passed the Senate unanimously and the House 59-1. Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) was the lone “No” vote and spoke in opposition, echoing our concerns.
PARTIAL LOSS/PARTIAL WIN (NO DEATH PENALTY EXPANSION)