President Bush Signs Anti-Choice Measure Into Law; ACLU Decries New Law as Undermining Reproductive Rights

April 1, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON - As President Bush today signed the so-called "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" at an elaborate White House ceremony, the American Civil Liberties Union expressed its dismay, saying that the Act is the latest addition to an ongoing assault on reproductive freedom, and that pregnant women could be protected without adopting the Act's approach of undermining the right to choose abortion.

"Congress could have chosen to protect pregnant women from violence without assaulting reproductive rights, but it failed to do so," said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "There is little doubt that this law is a thinly veiled attempt to create fetal rights and by doing so undermines reproductive freedom."

The new law amends the federal criminal code to create a new separate offense that would be applied 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 the Act applies to all stages of prenatal development, it is 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 last week on a vote of 61 to 38. The House passed its version of the measure in February. With the President's signature, the Act becomes 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 Act had linked it to the Laci Peterson murder case, exploiting that tragedy for political purposes.

The ACLU said that any attempt to endow the fetus with legal rights distinct from the pregnant woman could lead to an undermining of Roe v. Wade. The ACLU pointed to a statement made by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, showing that the Act would affect reproductive rights. Responding to critics of the bill as it was pending in Congress, he said, "they say it undermines abortion rights. It does undermine it. But that's irrelevant."

"With all due respect to Senator Hatch, the preservation of reproductive rights is relevant for millions of Americans," Murphy said. "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. There were alternatives -- that Congress failed to adopt -- that would have focused on the devastating loss or injury to the woman without undermining reproductive freedom."

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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