WASHINGTON (ABP) — The U.S. House of Representatives voted Feb. 26 to treat an attack on a pregnant woman as two separate crimes against her and the fetus she is carrying. Critics say the bill would undermine abortion rights by giving fetuses new legal status.
The measure would be applicable only to federal crimes, such as terrorism or drug trafficking. But supporters said Congress needs to bring federal law in line with state statutes. Twenty-nine states already have laws that recognize crimes against fetuses.
Passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act is backed by President Bush and conservative religious groups. It is the major legislative objective of abortion opponents this year, after Congress banned partial-birth abortions last year. A similar bill awaits action in the Senate. Although the House has twice passed bills recognizing crimes against fetuses, the Senate has yet to do so.
Bush urged the Senate to follow the House's lead. “Pregnant women who have been harmed by violence, and their families, know that there are two victims — the mother and the unborn child — and both victims should be protected by federal law,” he said in a statement.
Before passing the bill 254-163, House members easily rejected a Democratic substitute that would have increased penalties for attacks on pregnant women in which the fetus is injured or killed without recognizing the fetus as a victim.
Legislators named the bill in honor of Laci and Conner Peterson. Laci Peterson and her unborn child were slain in December 2002. Her husband, Scott Peterson, faces double murder charges under California's state unborn-victims law.