New Fetal Rights Legislation Places Anti-Abortion Agenda Above Women's Health

September 14, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — A House panel today approved yet another bill designed to erode reproductive freedom. The bill, which would be the first to give a fetus independent legal rights, is one of the top legislative priorities for groups that seek to ban abortion.

“This bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Kathryn Engustian, a Legislative Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “If protecting a woman’s right to continue her pregnancy were truly all that the bill sponsors hoped to achieve, we would be working side by side to ensure its passage.”

Introduced by three staunchly anti-choice representatives — Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Chris Smith, R-NJ, and Charles Canady, R-FL – and backed by the National Right to Life Committee — the legislation would create a new criminal offense to punish anyone who injures or causes the death of a fetus during the commission of certain federal crimes.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill today on a party-line vote, with 14 Republicans voting for the legislation and 11 Democrats opposed. The bill is expected on the House floor in the first week of October.

The ACLU supports punishments that recognize the additional harm a woman suffers due to the loss of her pregnancy, but questions supporters’ claims that their intent is not to affect a woman’s right to choose an abortion. The bill is one of more than 100 votes on reproductive rights and family planning issues since the Republicans gained a majority in the House of Representatives, the ACLU noted.

Engustian said that the ACLU supported passage of legislation in North Carolina that focused on the violation of a woman’s health and rights that occurs when a pregnancy is ended against her will, and would enthusiastically endorse a similar federal bill.

“The sponsors of this legislation are more concerned about their scheme to slowly undermine reproductive freedom than they are about trying to protect women’s right to continue a pregnancy,” Engustian said.

Even staunchly anti-choice individuals like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia have recognized that there is no legal precedent under the Constitution to recognize a fetus as a separate person.

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