- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004


The House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved a bill that would make it a separate federal crime to kill or injure a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.

Democrats on the panel called the legislation a thinly veiled attempt to erode abortion rights.

The 20-13 vote on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, at the first meeting of the committee this year, divided cleanly on partisan lines. Republicans on the committee all voted in favor of the bill, and all Democrats against it.

Under current law, said Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, “injuring or killing an unborn child during an attack against a pregnant woman has no legal consequence. This situation is unacceptable.”

But Democrats and pro-choice groups said the real motive was to establish “fetal personhood” by giving separate federal protection to a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus. “This is part of a larger cultural war that is going on,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, top Democrat on the committee.

Supporters have nicknamed the bill the “Laci and Conner’s law” after the pregnant Modesto, Calif., woman who disappeared in late 2002. Her husband, Scott Peterson, is charged with murdering his wife and their unborn child. California and nearly 30 other states have laws providing different degrees of protection to fetal victims.

The bill before Congress probably would not apply in the Peterson case because it covers only federal crimes, including kidnapping across state lines, drug-related drive-by shootings, and assaults occurring on federal property.

The House twice has passed similar “unborn victims” bills, in 1999 and 2001. In both cases, no action was taken in the Senate, where pro-choice lawmakers hold a stronger position. Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, is sponsoring parallel legislation in the Senate this year.

Mr. Chabot, who also sponsored the recently enacted law that bans partial-birth abortion, stressed that this legislation “has nothing to do with abortion,” and that it specifically states that it does not permit the prosecution of legal abortions carried out with the consent of the mother.

But he and other Republicans rejected an amendment, offered by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat. She would have increased penalties for attacks on a pregnant woman leading to the interruption of a pregnancy but not confer separate legal rights to the fetus.

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