ACLU Calls Senate Anti-Choice Vote Misguided; Reproductive Freedom Could Be Undermined By Bill's Passage

March 25, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Following the Senate’s adoption of the so-called “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” the American Civil Liberties Union today called the measure an ill-advised assault on reproductive freedom, saying that pregnant women could be protected without adopting the bill’s approach of undermining the right to choose abortion.

“This thinly veiled attempt to create fetal rights is an effort to further erode the reproductive rights of women,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Supporters argue that this would deter violence against pregnant women, but we know that they are not serious because the Senate rejected an amendment that would have bolstered programs to do just that.”

The bill (HR 1997) seeks to amend the federal criminal code to create a new, separate offense if, during the commission of certain federal crimes, an individual causes the death of, or bodily injury to, what the sponsors call a “child in utero.” Because HR 1997 applies to all stages of prenatal development, it would be the first federal law to recognize a zygote (fertilized egg), a blastocyst (pre-implantation embryo), an embryo (through week eight of a pregnancy), or a fetus as an independent “victim” of a crime with legal rights distinct from the woman who has been harmed by a violent criminal act.

The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 61 to 38. The House passed its version of the measure in February. President Bush is expected to sign the bill, which 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.

Sponsors of the latest version of the bill have linked it to the Laci Peterson murder case, exploiting that tragedy for political purposes.

“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. It is unfortunate that the Senate today refused to take that route.”

The ACLU’s letter to the Senate Urging Opposition to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act can be found at:
/ReproductiveRights/ReproductiveRights.cfm?ID=15299 &c=143

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