As House Passes Fetal Rights Measure, ACLU Urges Senate to Reject Attempt to Undermine Reproductive Freedom

February 26, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the House of Representative adopted the so-called “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” the American Civil Liberties Union today called on the Senate to reject the measure, saying that pregnant women can be protected without adopting the legislation’s approach of undermining the right to choose abortion.

“Supporters argue that this would deter violence against pregnant women – but there is little doubt that it is a thinly veiled attempt to create fetal rights and further erode women’s reproductive rights,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The House rejected alternatives that would protect pregnant women from violence without assaulting the right to choose. Clearly, its intent is not to prevent violence against women.”

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 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 House adopted the measure on a vote of 254 to 163.

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.

The ACLU called the bill unnecessary because violent crimes against pregnant women can 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.

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. We call upon the Senate to protect reproductive freedom by rejecting this deceptive bill.”

The ACLU’s letter to the House can be found at:

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