- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

This week, the Senate is expected to debate legislation giving federal protection to society’s most vulnerable individuals, unborn children.

The bill would make it a federal crime to injure or kill the embryo or fetus of a pregnant mother. It is also known as Laci and Connor’s law, in tribute to Laci Peterson and her unborn son, who were both slain near the end of 2002. Last month, the House passed the measure (H.R. 1997) by a 254-163 margin. It was the third time that the House has done so, but the Senate has never acted on the legislation.

Under the Senate rules of debate that have been agreed to, no filibusters will be allowed. At the end of debate, the measure will face two amendments, both of which its supporters regard as poison pills. The first, to be offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, would eviscerate the original intent of the bill by establishing the position that there is only one victim of violence against a pregnant woman. Even worse, the amendment would make a mockery of the new protections it proposes. The amendment makes it a crime “to cause the termination or interruption of the normal course of pregnancy,” but then prohibits prosecution “for matters related to the pregnancy.” It has other potential problems as well, but the larger point is that it does little to shield unborn victims.

The second amendment, to be offered by Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, would force a prolonged House and Senate conference on many controversial provisions, which Democrats could further delay. With little time on the legislative calendar, adoption of the Murray amendment would effectively kill the bill.

Sen. John Kerry and others opposed to the bill argue that it would interfere with Roe vs. Wade rights. Yet the House bill explicitly prohibits the prosecution of abortion providers and of the mothers who seek them out. There’s a fair amount of irony in the position, but it is a palatable compromise.

Twenty-nine states have already codified some form of fetal-protection measure. Others are poised to do so. Polls show that about 88 percent of the public supports the common-sense position that an attack on a pregnant woman has two victims.

Shortly after the Unborn Victims of Violence Act passed the House, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said it “recognizes that when a criminal attacks a pregnant woman and kills her unborn child, he has claimed not just one, but two, precious human lives.” The gift of life deserves federal protection. The Senate should send a clean bill to the president, whose signature awaits.

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