Background: This legislation provides that any person who injures or kills a child in utero during the commission of already defined federal crimes (including those in military law) would be guilty of two separate offenses – harm to the mother and harm to the child. The death penalty would not be imposed. Abortions are excluded. Twenty-six states already have laws that recognize unborn children as crime victims. These laws have withstood challenges in the courts. In both 106th and 107th Congresses this legislation passed the House but was not considered by the Senate.
Recognizing the unborn as crime victims does not conflict with the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling. Going beyond the holdings of Roe, abortion advocates object to any reference to the unborn child as a separate existing being. In the past, they have introduced substitute proposals that would increase penalties for harm to the mother while completely ignoring the unborn child as a victim.
However, when there are two victims of crime, the law can and must acknowledge them both.
The importance of this issue was brought to the fore in a California case. On April 21, 2003 under California’s unborn victim’s law, prosecutors brought a double murder charge for the deaths of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner. Prosecutors say that Laci and Conner were killed on or about December 23 or 24, 2002, during the eighth month of pregnancy. On April 13 and 14, 2003, their bodies were recovered and identified separately after washing up on the shore of San Francisco Bay. A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll released April 25, 2003, shows that 84% of registered voters favor the double charge of homicide for the killings and only 7% favor a single charge. At the request of the family, the UVVA is also being called Laci and Conner’s Law.
Cathleen Cleaver Ruse, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, observed, “Laci Peterson’s family, and the American people, see clearly that there were two victims of this tragedy,” adding, “It’s sad and ridiculous for anyone to suggest that Laci’s family has only one loved one to mourn. It’s time that our federal laws against violence embrace reality.”
Senate: On May 7, 2003, Sen. Michael DeWine (R-OH) introduced the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (S. 1019) (supercedes the earlier S. 146). The measure has 39 cosponsors and has been placed directly on the Senate calendar.
Majority Leader Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) had said he hoped the Senate would consider S. 1019 during July. On July 23, noting that negotiations since June 26 had not produced an agreement on proceeding with the bill, Sen. Frist offered a unanimous consent request that at an agreed upon time the Senate move to immediate consideration of S. 1019, with two hours of debate and no amendments. Minority Whip Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) objected. He said the Democrats were considering several amendments. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would offer a substitute. Sen.
Patty Murray (D-WA) would offer an amendment on domestic relations. Another senator would offer an amendment dealing with intent. And there may be another one or two unspecified amendments. Sen. Frist noted that this was the first time he heard just what these amendments might be. “I look forward, again, to working to bring this bill to the floor as soon as possible. . . . We believe it is a critically important bill that does deserve prompt consideration” (CR S9741).
House: On May 7, 2003, Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA), introduced the companion House bill (H.R. 1997); the measure has 135 cosponsors. The bill was referred to the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.
Hearings: On July 8, 2003, the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on H.R. 1997.
Markup: On July 15, 2003, the Subcommittee on the Constitution marked up H.R. 1997, approving the measure 6-yes, 3-no.
Congress should act quickly to pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. It is especially important that senators be urged to vote for the bill and to oppose all substitute amendments. For an Action Alert directed to the U.S. Senate and other important information, click on the “Related Information” button