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Renée Graham

The Violence Against Women Act is in peril

From left, Bella, Celeste, and Shanann Watts.
From left, Bella, Celeste, and Shanann Watts.(The Colorado Bureau of Investigation/AP)

Days after a Colorado man made a public plea for the safe return of his missing pregnant wife and their two daughters, he was arrested and charged with killing them.

“This is the worst possible outcome that any of us can imagine,” said John Camper, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation director, at a press conference. What it shouldn’t be is a surprise. After car accidents, murder is the leading cause of death for pregnant women.

Though the deaths of Shanann Watts and her daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, have garnered national attention, their deaths are as commonplace as they are horrific.

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Cherrkisha Jones was murdered this month in Arkansas. Jennifer Moore died in Dallas. Shannon Mani was murdered and stuffed in a suitcase in Milwaukee. Ashley Harlan was killed in Kansas. Chelsee Dennis was shot to death in Arizona. Eileen Viveros-Vargas was fatally shot in the head in Minnesota. Martine Bernard’s body was found in a dumpster in Florida. Maura McCoy was bludgeoned with a golf club in Alabama. A week before she was due to give birth, Karmeshia Pipes was murdered in Tennessee.

That’s only some of the women murdered this year by current or former husbands or boyfriends. And that doesn’t even cover the many pregnant women who’ve survived being shot, stabbed, beaten, or set on fire.

This is one reason why the Violence Against Women Act must be reauthorized.

Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, it was the first to specifically address domestic violence, sexual assault, and dating violence. It provides support and grants for prevention, law enforcement training, and services for domestic violence victims. It also fostered creation of the National Domestic Violence Hotline which, in 20 years, has received more than four million calls.

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“The law has enhanced and improved the lives of girls and women, boys and men,” said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who last month proposed a bill to reauthorize the law. “It has unquestionably improved the national response to these terrible crimes.”

With bipartisan support, the law has always been reauthorized, most recently in 2013. Yet this time, the current House bill has yet to find a single Republican co-sponsor. Congress returns from its summer recess Sept. 4; the bill expires after Sept. 30.

Regardless of political affiliation, supporting a law that protects women from domestic and sexual violence should be a no-brainer. In America, domestic violence claims more than half of all women murdered. Nationwide, at least three women each day are killed by a current or former male partner, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Yet Republicans don’t seem to care as much about keeping women safe as they do about keeping guns as available as possible, even for those who shouldn’t have them.

In most domestic violence murders, a gun is the weapon of choice. That’s why the 2018 bill seeks, among other things, an expansion of laws that allow police and other law enforcement officers to confiscate firearms from those under a restraining order or with a conviction for stalking or dating violence.

This is common sense. Still, Republican efforts to protect women never match the urgency of the moment — especially under this administration.

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Instead of hate-tweeting his former-pal-turned-nemesis Omarosa, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and this newspaper, Trump could be supporting the legislation. Of course, he won’t. The president’s shameful attitude toward women is well documented, whether he’s disparaging their looks, attacking their intelligence, or dodging years of sexual misconduct accusations.

The act may still be reauthorized before the deadline. Yet the impossibly high price could be Republicans whittling away provisions that won’t sit well with their base and the NRA. To keep that support, they’ll overlook dangers women face daily, especially within their own homes.

It also lays bare the hypocrisy of the GOP’s professed devotion to protecting the unborn. That abiding concern flares only when a woman chooses to legally end her pregnancy, but never when another disgruntled man uses lethal violence to snuff out another pregnancy, and another woman’s life.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.