- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

The House yesterday passed legislation that would make it a federal crime to harm or kill an unborn child in the course of assaulting a pregnant woman.

The measure passed by a 252-172 vote with 53 Democrats crossing party lines to support it, and 21 Republicans voting no.

"It´s time that our society began recognizing and defending both of the victims who are harmed when violent criminals attack pregnant women," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

"Those who would artificially discriminate between lives lost to crime within and without the womb draw empty and callous distinctions. All life is precious," Mr. DeLay said.

President Clinton threatened to veto the bill when it first passed the House 254-172 in 1999, and it never reached the Senate floor for debate.

President Bush welcomed passage of the bill.

"I commend the House for its bipartisan passing of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act," President Bush said in a statement last night. "This legislation affirms our commitment to a culture of life, which welcomes and protects children."

White House officials said earlier this week that Mr. Bush would sign the bill into law if it received final passage by the Senate. Republicans, however, concede the bill faces an uphill battle in passing the evenly divided chamber.

"This will be a test of leadership over there," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican. "We´ll see if it can survive the rocks and shoals of the other body."

A spokesman for Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said the bill is "on our radar screen," but other aides said the Senate schedule is focused on education and the budget, and it is unlikely the bill would be scheduled for a vote this year.

Opponents of the bill, mostly Democrats, called it a thinly disguised attempt to undermine Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws against abortion. The bill defines the protected unborn as "homo sapiens at any stage of development who is carried in the womb."

"This act is designed to erode the foundation of the woman´s right to choose by simply elevating the legal status of prenatal development under federal law," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat.

Supporters argued the measure would ensure that crimes against wanted unborn children are equally prosecuted as a crime against the pregnant mother.

"This is not an abortion bill," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "Without this bill, crimes against innocent victims will go unpunished."

Rep. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and author of the bill, said the legislation does not seek to prosecute women who have abortions or doctors who perform them.

"America is deeply divided about government interfering with the right to choose, but that doesn´t mean we consider the unborn child an enemy," Mr. Graham said.

Republicans related gruesome stories of violence against pregnant women in their home districts, including Tracy Scheide Marciniak of Wisconsin. Mrs. Marciniak was assaulted by her husband, and her unborn son was killed just days before she was expected to give birth.

"The outrage by the public after these events happen demands that we take action," said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican.

More than 20 states have similar laws that protect unborn children. The bill approved by the House yesterday would apply only to crimes within federal jurisdiction.

Democrats proposed their own measure that would toughen penalties for assaulting pregnant women rather than treat the assault on the unborn child as a separate crime. Sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, that measure failed 196-229.

"It is unfortunate this Congress has failed to take the opportunity to unite on something I think we could agree on, and that is, it is wrong to assault women," Mrs. Lofgren said.

Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, said only "radical abortion advocates" would see a conflict of rights between women and rights of the unborn.

Pro-life groups applauded the House passage of the bill and were putting pressure on the Senate to follow suit.

"Violent assailants should not be given a pass for their crime because their victim was inside a loving mother´s womb," said Wendy Wright, director of communications for Concerned Women for America.

* Bill Sammon, traveling with President Bush in Texas, contributed to this article.

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