Republicans defeated an amendment that would have increased penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman but would not make harming a fetus a separate crime.
Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sponsored the legislation, which has 95 co-sponsors. He says the bill would apply only to "crimes committed under federal or U.S. military jurisdiction and does not affect state laws."
The House passed similar legislation last year, but it never became law. Abortion supporters oppose the bill as a first step toward defining an unborn baby as a person, with the ultimate goal being to outlaw abortion.
Unlike the Clinton administration, the Bush administration supports the legislation.
In a policy statement sent to the House Rules Committee Wednesday, the White House said: "The administration supports protection for unborn children and therefore supports House passage of H.R. 503. The legislation would make it a separate federal offense to cause death or bodily injury to a child, who is in utero, in the course of committing any one of 68 federal offenses."
Graham believes that protecting the unborn is not a new idea. "Unfortunately, the laws covering federal crimes of violence such as bombings, carjackings and kidnappings are silent on the matter. The legislation holds criminals accountable for their actions.
"It also protects the unborn while not wandering into the divisive, highly charged, emotional battleground of abortion. I think it's a reasoned approach to a very serious problem," Graham said.
Not everybody agrees. Republican Pro-Choice Coalition thinks Congress should reject the Unborn Victims of Violence Act and instead strengthen victims' rights laws. American Life League and National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, two groups that rarely agree on any abortion issue, do not like the bill either.
"During the campaign, there was much discussion about the danger of creating new, special rights in a federal law," said Republican Pro-Choice Coalition co-chairwoman Susan Cullman. "Yet Congress is poised to create a new category for victims, a category which would be protected by the full force of federal law enforcement. We support harsher penalties for violence against anyone, including pregnant women. However, we see no merit in establishing special protections and rights for every stage of embryonic development."
"If the goal is to punish criminality, let's instead prosecute offenders according to the severity of the crime with all factors considered. More laws do not solve the problem. Prosecuting criminality does," she said.
American Life League said the Unborn Victims of Violence Act was not a pro-life bill. League President Judie Brown said the measure granted a "schizophrenic exemption for abortionists who kill the preborn."
"Though the intention of the bill claims to be protecting preborn persons from violence, it exempts their greatest threat, the abortionists who butcher 4,400 little boys and girls every day.
"By exempting abortionists, this bill dangerously recognizes a woman's fallacious right to abortion in federal legislation. Because of this, it may even prove detrimental to our ultimate goal of securing a paramount human life amendment. This is not a pro-life bill," said Brown.
NARAL also denounced the legislation.
"The Unborn Victims of Violence Act is deceptive. This legislation is an attack on a woman's right to choose is disguised as an effort to protect pregnant women from violence. NARAL strongly believes that acts of violence against women, especially pregnant women, are tragic and should be punished appropriately and to the full extent of the law," NARAL said in a statement.
"If enacted, the legislation would, for the first time under federal law, recognize a zygote (fertilized egg), blastocyst (preimplantation embryo), embryo, or fetus as a 'person,' with rights separate and equal to those of a woman and worthy of legal protection. This legislation is part of a deliberate, coordinated anti-choice campaign to undermine Roe vs. Wade by endowing embryos and fetuses with 'personhood' rights."
However, Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., supports the legislation because "life is a precious thing."
"This is an uncontroversial bill that has passed the House before by wide margins," he said, noting that abortions - protected by Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that invented a right to abortion, are specifically exempted.
"Life is a precious thing. It was cited by Thomas Jefferson as the very first right we should protect in the Declaration of Independence. But in recent years, the law has gotten wrapped up in technicalities and confused by radical interest groups bent on creating and ensuring spurious rights the Constitution was not written to guarantee or even recognize.
"The right to live is no longer guaranteed. Congress is now taking an important step toward reestablishing that right for all of us, including babies," Pitts said this week in a speech on the House floor.
According to Fox New on Thursday:
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said during debate: "Everyone in the chamber understands what's going on today. The majority did not bring this bill to the floor to protect pregnant women. The majority brought the measure to the floor today to launch its battle to end a woman's right to choose."
But a New York Republican, Rep. Sue Myrick, said: "It's not the same thing as a simple assault. Clearly, it's more serious and more emotionally jarring and it should be treated accordingly."
Republicans noted the bill was merely a federal extension of the many state laws that protect the unborn.
"Twenty-four states have statutes similar to the one being considered today. And if those statutes which protect the rights of unborn children were such an assault on the ... mother's constitutional rights, every one of them would have been struck down by a federal court to the Supreme Court level," argued Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
The bill passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate and is unlikely to be taken up by the Senate this year, Fox News reported.
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