ACLU Says "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" Threatens Reproductive Freedom

March 15, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today denounced the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” saying its supporters seek to undermine the constitutional underpinning for reproductive freedom, rather than protect pregnant women.

“Although proponents claim that this bill is intended merely to punish violent offenders, it is in reality a dangerous attempt to separate a woman from her fetus in the eyes of the law,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU National Legislative Office. “Such separation is the first step toward eroding a woman’s right to determine the fate of her own pregnancy and to direct the course of her own health care.”

The bill, H.R. 503, was considered today by the House Judiciary Committee subcommittee on the Constitution. It was drafted with the assistance of the National Right to Life Committee and introduced by Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). It 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.

This legislation would amend the federal criminal code and the Uniform Code of Military Justice to create a new and separate offense 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.” The ACLU opposes this bill because it attempts to endow the fetus with legal rights distinct from the woman who has been injured by a violent act. It would thus dramatically alter the existing legal framework by elevating the fetus to an unprecedented status in federal law, undermining the foundations of the right to choose abortion.

The ACLU fully supports alternative approaches to punishing violence against pregnant women, including enhanced penalties for cases in which a woman suffers not only harm to herself, but to her pregnancy. This bill, however, is an inappropriate method of imposing such punishment, Murphy said.

“Proponents of this legislation rejected approaches that would have punished violence against women — including violence that causes the loss of a pregnancy — without creating new fetal rights,” Murphy said. “It is no accident that anti-choice groups have drafted and circulated similar legislation all across the country. The proponents of this bill have built their careers around banning abortion. This bill is part of that agenda.”

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-OH, introduced the bill’s counterpart in the Senate, S. 480, but no hearings have been scheduled.

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