ACLU Calls on House Judiciary Committee to Protect Reproductive Freedom On Eve of Roe v. Wade Anniversary

January 21, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – On the eve of the anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade decision, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to oppose the so-called “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” which is scheduled for markup in the House Judiciary Committee this morning, saying that pregnant women can be protected without adopting the bill’s approach of undermining the right to choose abortion.

“Anti-choice advocates contend that this bill would deter violence against pregnant women – but there is little doubt that it is a guise to legally separate the fetus from the mother and further erode reproductive freedom,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Why else would supporters of this bill reject approaches that would protect pregnant women without assaulting the right to choose?”

The bill (HR 1997) was originally drafted in part by the National Right to Life Committee and introduced by the vehemently anti-choice Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA). The bill would amend the federal criminal code and the Uniform Code of Military Justice to create a new and separate offense that could be used if, during the commission of certain federal crimes, an individual causes the death of, or bodily injury to, what the sponsors of the bill call a “child in utero.”

If adopted, the bill would be the first federal law to recognize a fetus at any stage of development, from conception forward, as an independent “victim” of a crime with legal rights distinct from the woman who has been harmed by a violent criminal act.

Fundamentally, the bill is unnecessary because violent crimes against pregnant women can easily be assigned tougher sentences without undermining the legal foundation of reproductive freedom. To endow the fetus with legal rights distinct from those of the woman could erode this foundation, the ACLU said.

Proponents of this legislation have rejected attempts by lawmakers to punish violence against women – including violence that causes the loss of a pregnancy – without creating new fetal rights. The ACLU claims that this demonstrates that the intent of the legislation is not to protect women from violence, but rather to curtail reproductive freedom.

Sponsors of the latest version of the bill have also linked it to the Laci Peterson murder case, exploiting that tragedy for political purposes. The bill’s secondary title is “Laci and Conner’s Law.”

“Violence against pregnant women that results in the loss of or harm to a wanted pregnancy is a criminal act that should be appropriately punished,” Murphy said. “We can do that by focusing on the devastating loss or injury to the woman without undermining reproductive freedom. To attempt to rollback reproductive freedom on the eve of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is an affront to a woman’s right to choose.”

The ACLU’s letter to the House Judiciary Committee can be found at:
/node/21209

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