ACLU Urges Lawmakers to Oppose Deceptively Named Bill Aimed To Erode Reproductive Freedom

July 15, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged federal lawmakers to oppose the so-called “”Unborn Victims of Violence Act,”” which is set for consideration in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution this morning, saying that attacks on pregnant women can be deterred just as effectively without adopting the bill’s approach of separating the fetus from the woman in the eyes of the law.

“”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 woman, both legally and under public opinion, in what is a thinly-veiled attempt to erode reproductive freedom,”” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office. “”Were this legislation to become law, it could become part of the larger effort to undermine a woman’s right to direct the course of her own reproductive life.””

Fundamentally, the bill is unnecessary because violent crimes against pregnant women can easily 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.

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). 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.

A hearing was held on the bill last week in the House Judiciary Committee’s Constitution Subcommittee.

Sponsors of the latest version of the bill have also linked it to the Laci Peterson murder case, exploiting that tragedy for political purposes.

“”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. “”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.””

The House bill 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.”

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 the push to deny women reproductive freedom. This bill is part of that agenda,”” Murphy said.

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