New Front in Battle to Undermine Reproductive Freedom Opens On The House Floor Today

September 30, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Coinciding with the Christian Coalition’s annual convention here, the House of Representatives is slated to vote today on yet another bill designed to erode reproductive freedom. The bill would be the first federal law to give independent legal rights not only to a fetus, but also to fertilized eggs and pre-implanted embryos.

“The Republican leadership is trying to mask its ultimate goal,” said Kathryn Engustian, a Legislative Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Once again, we see that they are more concerned with undermining abortion rights than with ensuring that women are able to continue their pregnancies free from violence.”

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 what its sponsors call “a member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of development,” during the commission of certain federal crimes. Fertilized eggs (zygotes), pre-implantation embryos (blastocysts), embryos (through week eight of a pregnancy) and fetuses would all be covered by the legislation.

“It is time for the bill’s supporters to stop talking out of both sides of their mouths,” Engustian said. “If they truly wanted to protect pregnant women they would drop this divisive bill and work with us to develop legislation that could actually become law.”

The Clinton Administration has promised to veto the legislation.

“Their private actions belie their public words,” Engustian said. “Crowing to anti-abortion activists about tricking pro-choice groups while pretending to the American public this bill has nothing to do with reproductive rights just doesn’t wash.”

In a clear sign of their duplicity, the National Right to Life Committee had initially touted its ability to keep the bill secret from pro-choice groups. It later removed the sentence from a message on its web site.

The ACLU supports punishments that recognize the additional harm a woman suffers due to the loss of her pregnancy, and helped secure 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. The ACLU would enthusiastically endorse a similar federal bill.

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

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