Last Thursday President Bush signed into law a bill that would make the murder of a pregnant woman two federal crimes – one for the mother, one for her fetus. The bill has been strongly opposed by pro-choice advocates, who see it as a possible avenue for politicians to ban abortion in the future.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act passed the House of Representatives 254-163 in late March, and by a 61-38 margin in the Senate. The President signed the bill in an elaborate ceremony as a nod to his conservative supporters.
Twenty-nine states already have laws that define a separate crime if a fetus is harmed during an assault on a pregnant woman. California, where Scott Peterson is accused of murdering his wife Laci and their unborn son Conner, already has such a law. Laci was eight months pregnant. The act is also known as Laci and Conner’s Law.
“Too many pregnant women are being victimized by criminals, and the current law does not reflect the reality that when a criminal harms the woman, that criminal is also harming the unborn child,” said House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Laci Peterson’s wasn’t the first assault on a pregnant woman that resulted in the loss of an unborn child. Earlier this year in Kentucky, Ashley Lyons, 18, was murdered. She was 21 weeks pregnant and had just verified via ultrasound that she was carrying a son, which she had named Landon. Lyons was shot three times, and her assailant is still missing. Both she and her fetus died.
Abortion foes hailed the law as another step towards ensuring fetal rights. Bush has signed into law several pieces of anti-abortion legislation, including bills banning late-term abortions and amendments to legal definitions of “person,” “human being,” “child” and “individual” to include a fetus.
The bill specifically excludes doctors from prosecution who perform legal abortions. In the case of assault, it states that an offense does not require proof that the assailant had knowledge that the victim was pregnant.
Pro-choice supporters fear that passage of the bill brings the country one step closer to banning abortion. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), the favored Democratic presidential nominee, voted against the bill. It is expected to be a key campaign issue this fall.
According to a Yahoo news article, supporters claim that 80 percent of U.S. citizens polled supported bringing two separate charges against the murderer of a pregnant woman when a fetus is also killed. Organizations on both side of the abortion debate are encouraging their members to rally to the cause.
NARAL Pro-Choice America called the Unborn Victims Act a “deceptive attempt to erode Roe vs. Wade” and said Congress should take other measures to protect pregnant women from violence.