WASHINGTON (ABP) — Just days after it gained final approval in Congress, President Bush signed a bill into law that will treat embryos and fetuses at any stage of pregnancy as equal victims of crimes against their mothers.
Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act in an East Room ceremony April 1. On March 25, the Senate gave final approval to the legislation, which defines the unborn children as victims with rights.
It is also known as “Laci and Conner's Law,” after Laci Peterson and her unborn child. Peterson was murdered in December 2002. Her husband, Scott Peterson, is awaiting trial on double murder charges under California's unborn-victims law.
“As of today, the law of our nation will acknowledge the plain fact that crimes of violence against a pregnant woman often have two victims,” Bush said prior to signing the bill. He was surrounded by Laci Peterson's mother and stepfather, as well as other parents who have lost pregnant daughters to murder.
The measure would be applicable only to federal crimes, such as those that take place on federal lands or against certain government employees. In addition to California, 28 other states already have laws that recognize crimes against fetuses, and supporters of the new law said Congress needs to bring federal law in line with state statutes.
But abortion-rights supporters said the law is simply a way to write a newly protected status for fetuses into federal law. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) attempted to offer an alternative version of the bill that would double penalties for the murder of a pregnant woman without defining the fetus as a human life. Senators defeated it by a one-vote margin.
The law contains an exception that explicitly protects abortion doctors from being prosecuted under its provisions.
At the signing, Bush, an abortion-rights opponent, said, “with this action we widen the circle of compassion and inclusion in our society, and we reaffirm that the United States of America is building a culture of life.”
Although the new law's supporters say it is not intended to undermine abortion rights, anti-abortion groups lobbied heavily for the bill and praised its passage.
Cathy Cleaver Ruse, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' pro-life arm, said state laws often treat unborn children as human beings.
“Abortion advocates hold up Roe [vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide] as if it were the standard by which all other laws should be judged, forgetting that legal abortion is the uncomfortable exception, not the rule, when it comes to the way the law treats unborn children,” Ruse said in a statement released shortly after the bill's signing.
“A woman who has lost an unborn child in a violent attack deserves the law's recognition that both she and her child were victims of the crime,” she added. “Anything less is an affront to women and their children.”