The House yesterday approved for the third time legislation legally recognizing two victims when a pregnant woman and her unborn child are injured or killed in a crime — a bill that has notable public support and that is now in the hands of the Senate this election year.
“It is now up to the Senate to have the courage to follow suit,” said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, after the House passed the bill 254-163, with 47 Democrats supporting it and 13 Republicans opposing it.
President Bush yesterday urged the Senate to join the House and pass the bill.
“Pregnant women who have been harmed by violence and their families know that there are two victims … and both victims should be protected by federal law,” he said in a statement.
The legislation is being pushed by the California family of victim Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, as well as the Lyons of Kentucky, whose pregnant daughter, Ashley, and her unborn son, Landon, were killed in January. House Republican leaders said senators are under pressure to vote for the bill because of these cases.
Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, yesterday told Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota to get Democrats in line behind the bill, also known as Laci and Conner’s Law. She specifically pressured presidential candidates Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
Mr. Kerry and other opponents say the bill would undermine abortion rights by recognizing a fetus, at any stage, as a person with legal rights.
The bill would make it a separate federal crime to hurt or kill a fetus at any stage of pregnancy during the commission of about 68 federal crimes against a pregnant woman. It explicitly would exempt legal abortion.
The Senate never has considered the measure, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said yesterday, “We’re going to be addressing it soon.”
He negotiated with Democrats last year to bring up the bill, but never reached agreement.
In the House yesterday, Democrats accused Republicans of playing “abortion politics.”
House Democrats offered an alternative that would have created extra penalties for harming pregnant women, without recognizing the fetus as a second victim. It failed 186—229, but Senate Democrats likely will offer similar legislation when the bill is debated there and if the outcome is not clear. Mr. Kerry has indicated he would support such an alternative.
Victims’ families reject the “one-victim” approach.
“People say I only lost one,” Carol Lyons said yesterday at a news conference. “No. I lost two. We lost our daughter and our grandson, Landon.”
Kentucky had no fetal-homicide law at the time of the Lyons’ murder, but with outcry from the family, the state quickly passed one in January, making it the 29th state with such a law.
In a July 2003 Fox News poll, 79 percent of Americans thought prosecutors should be able to charge a criminal with murder for killing a fetus in an attack on its mother.