House Passes Unborn Victims of Violence Act
The House of Representatives yesterday voted 252-172 to pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (HR 503), making it a federal crime to harm a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman, the Washington Post reports (Eilperin, Washington Post, 4/27). Although the bill specifically states that is does not apply to abortion, it has "renewed the emotional debate over when life begins and sparked the year's first legislative confrontation in the House between advocates and opponents of abortion rights," according to the New York Times reports (Mitchell, New York Times, 4/27). Introduced by Rep. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), HR 503 states that anyone who causes the death or bodily injury of a fetus is "guilty of a separate offense," and "the punishment for that separate offense is the same as the punishment provided under Federal law for that conduct had that injury or death occurred to the unborn child's mother" (HR 503 text, 4/27). The bill makes exceptions for legal medical procedures, including abortion, and for acts done on behalf of or by a pregnant woman to herself. Supporters of the legislation, including 53 Democrats who crossed party lines and joined 198 Republicans to approve the bill, said it would "help prosecutors combat the growing problem of violence against pregnant women." But bill opponents called it a "backdoor attack on abortion rights" because it "effectively defines the fetus as a separate person."
According to the Times, the bill is "one of a series of measures put forward by abortion opponents in recent years that sidestep a direct confrontation over the landmark Roe v. Wade decision" (New York Times, 4/27). Susan Cohen of the Alan Guttmacher Institute said, "Antiabortion supporters want to create more places in law where fetuses are equated with persons. The more places they can call fetuses 'persons' in federal law, the more that can change the public mindset about what abortion means." However, Graham maintained that the legislation was "not about the abortion debate" but "about bringing the country together ... to put people in jail that deserve to go" (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 4/27). HR 503 now moves to the Senate, where leaders seem "disinclined to act on it soon." In the last session, former President Clinton threatened to veto a similar bill after it passed the House by a similar vote, but the Bush White House has issued a statement in support of HR 503 that noted that "the administration supports protection for unborn children" (New York Times, 4/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.