ACLU Urges House to Defeat "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," Says Bill Seeks to Erode Reproductive Freedom

April 25, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In what is expected to be the first of many efforts to cut back on reproductive rights in Congress, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote tomorrow on the so-called Unborn Victims of Violence Act. The bill is being sold by its supporters as a measure to protect pregnant women, when, in fact, it is nothing more than a subtle attempt to erode a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.

“Anti-choice forces claim this is simply a greater deterrent to violent offenders, but there can be no doubt that it’s a cunning attempt to separate the fetus from the mother in the eyes of the law and in the court of public opinion,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the Washington National Office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Were this legislation to become law, it would seriously undermine 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 drafted in part by the National Right to Life Committee and introduced by the vehemently anti-choice Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). If adopted, 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.

The legislation would amend the federal criminal code and the Uniform Code of Military Justice to create a new and separate offense that could be used 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 endows 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.

“Violent acts against pregnant women that result in the loss of or harm to a wanted pregnancy are criminal acts that should be appropriately punished,” Murphy said. “Legislation that imposes enhanced penalties in such a situation focuses the law where it should be: on the devastating loss or injury to the woman.”

Proponents of this legislation have rejected attempts to punish violence against women-including violence that causes the loss of a pregnancy-without creating new fetal rights. “It is not a coincidence that backers of this bill have built their careers around banning abortion. This bill is part of that agenda,” Murphy added.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) has introduced the bill’s counter-part in the Senate; it has yet to be acted upon.

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