Background: The Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA) provides that any person who injures or kills a child in utero during the commission of certain 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-nine states already have laws that recognize unborn children as crime victims. These laws do not conflict with the holdings of Roe v. Wade and have withstood challenges in the courts.
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 single-victim 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. A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll released July 2003 shows that 79% of registered voters agree that an attacker of a pregnant woman should be charged with murder if the fetus is killed.
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.”
The UVVA was first introduced in Congress in 1999. The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill in the 106th (1999) and 107th (2001) Congresses, though the Senate did not bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
House: On May 7, 2003, Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA), introduced the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (H.R. 1997). At the request of the family, this measure was also known as “Laci and Conner’s Law,” in honor of Laci Peterson and her eight-month-old unborn son, Conner. The bill was referred to the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.
On June 25, 2003, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced an opposition bill (H.R. 2247) that reduces an assault against mother and unborn child to a crime against the mother only.
Markup: On July 15, 2003, the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution marked up
H.R. 1997, approving the measure 6-yes, 3-no. On January 21, 2004, the full House Judiciary Committee marked up the bill, approving it 20-yes, 13-no. For House Report 108-420, see: thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/R?cp108:FLD010:@1(hr420):.
Floor: On February 11, 2004, with the Armed Services Committee being discharged,
H.R. 1997 was placed on the House calendar.
On February 26, 2004, the House approved H.R. 1997 with a decisive bipartisan vote, 254-yes, 163-no, 17-not voting (Roll Call 31). Prior to final passage, the House rejected a
single-victim substitute amendment offered by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), 186-yes, 229-no, 19-not voting (Roll Call 30).
After the House vote, Mrs. Sharon Rocha, the mother of Laci Peterson and the grandmother of Conner, issued a statement of gratitude for the House action and urged the Senate to approve the bill. For Mrs. Rocha’s statement, both in print and audio, see: nchla.org/issues.asp?ID=25.
On March 11, 2004, H.R. 1997 was read the second time and placed on the Senate calendar.
Senate: On May 7, 2003, Sen. Michael DeWine (R-OH) introduced the Senate companion bill (S. 1019) (superceded the earlier S. 146). The measure was placed directly on the Senate calendar. An attempt on July 23, 2003 to bring S. 1019 to the floor was blocked by opponents; they said they wanted more time to prepare amendments. Efforts to bring the bill to the Senate floor in 2003 were not successful.
Floor: On March 12, 2004, Senate Majority Leader Senator Bill First (R-TN) announced a unanimous consent agreement for Senate consideration of the UVVA. The House-passed bill,
H.R. 1997, would be considered, with two amendments allowed: a single-victim substitute by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and a lengthy domestic violence amendment by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). Neither amendment could be amended. The bill could not be filibustered.
Passage of the Murray amendment offered opportunities to create procedural problems.
But, above all, the Feinstein single-victim substitute had to be defeated.
The texts of the Feinstein and Murray amendments – Senate Amendments 2858 and 2859, respectively – can be found in the Congressional Record (3/12/04) S2804-21. See:
On March 25, 2004, the U.S. Senate in a bipartisan vote approved the UVVA, 61-yes, 38- no, 1-not voting (Roll Call 63). Prior to final passage, the Feinstein single-victim substitute amendment was defeated, as was the Murray domestic violence amendment. As expected, the vote on the Feinstein substitute was very close, 49-yes, 50-no, 1-not voting (Roll Call 61). A point of order was raised against the Murray amendment, requiring 60 votes for passage. The amendment fell short, 46-yes, 53-no, 1-not voting (Roll Call 62).
The vote on the Feinstein substitute was the most important vote. Cathy Cleaver Ruse, spokesperson for the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, expressed gratitude to the Senate for rejecting this amendment, and stated, “Abortion activists may recoil from the acknowledgment of a child’s existence before birth, but their efforts to erase the child as a second victim in a violent crime are an insult to all women and families who have lost a loved one to violence.”
Law: Because the bill text approved by House and Senate was the same, H. R. 1997 went directly to President Bush, who signed the bill into law at an April 1, 2004, White House ceremony (Public Law 108-212).
In his remarks, President Bush noted, “As of today, the law of our nation will acknowledge the plain fact that crimes of violence against a pregnant woman often have two victims. . . . any time an expectant mother is a victim of violence, two lives are in the balance, each deserving protection, and each deserving justice.”
Cathy Cleaver Ruse, spokesperson for the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, applauded the president’s action, stating, “A woman who loses her child to a brutal attacker in a federal jurisdiction will no longer be told that she has lost nothing.” Ruse observed how legal abortion is the exception to how the law treats the unborn child. “Outside the context of abortion, unborn children are often recognized by the law. . . . The ‘logic’ of Roe v. Wade is like the Emperor’s new clothes, and the abortion lobby stands in fear of the day when this logic is revealed to be just as insubstantial.”
For more information, see NCHLA’s legislative briefing page on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act at: nchla.org/issues.asp?ID=25.