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By Scott Tibbs, February 22nd, 2004

Thoughts on the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act"

With a vote of 254-163, the House of Representatives passed the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act". The law had been called "Laci and Connor's Law" after Laci Peterson and her unborn child, who were murdered. The bill had been stalled, but the Peterson case gave it the momentum it needed to pass the House. This allows someone to be charged with two federal crimes for the murder of a woman and her unborn baby.

I support the basic principle behind the law. There is no legitimate reason why there should no be a stiffer penalty to killing an unborn child in addition to the penalty for attacking the mother. An attack on two victims merits stiffer punishment than attacking only one.

Supporters of abortion rights argue that this bill is a backdoor measure to attack Roe vs. Wade. They are right. One of the advantages to this bill is that it advances the cultural argument that the unborn child is an individual human being, with rights and moral standing. The bill, and the outrage over the murders of Laci and Connor, is reinforcing the humanity of the unborn child in the minds of the American people. While the United States is not ready for a complete ban on abortion, laws like this pave the way for creating, as President Bush says, a "culture of life".

That, however, is not justification for opposing laws creating more penalties for violence against the unborn. This law, in an of itself, does not threaten "reproductive freedom". Pro-abortion organizations like the ACLU and NARAL are politicizing the debate over the Unborn Victims of Violence Act by making it about abortion rights.

One may say it is hypocritical to decry the fact that pro-abortion forces are making this a political battle while not making the same point about pro-life forces. There is a critical difference between the two. Pro-life legislators and interest groups are advancing a good law that will pave the way culturally for a ban on abortion. They support both the law and the overriding goal of eliminating abortion.

Advocates of "reproductive freedom", meanwhile, are opposing the Unborn Victims of Violence Act only because of the political and cultural implications of the bill. The American Civil Liberties Union said that the bill "unnecessarily undermines reproductive freedom". But the text of the legislation says:


"Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the prosecution of any person for conduct relating to an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman, or a person authorized by law to act on her behalf, has been obtained or for which such consent is implied by law."

The ACLU shows its hand when it says:


"This bill is an inappropriate method of imposing such punishment, however, because it dangerously seeks to separate the woman from her fetus in the eyes of the law. It could dramatically alter the existing legal framework, elevate the fetus to an unprecedented status in federal law, and undermine the foundations of the right to choose abortion." (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, the law is bad not on its merits, but because the law lays the cultural framework for a future ban on abortion. This is where the distinction is important. The ACLU, NARAL, and others oppose the bill only because of the political and cultural implications of it while supporters of the bill recognize the political and cultural benefits to their side but also support the aim of the bill itself.

The ACLU claims that the bill violates the due process clause of the Constitution by specifically discounting motivation to kill an unborn child. I think this is a weak argument. The intention to do harm is clearly there with an attack on a woman. Whether someone "knows" if a woman is pregnant does not negate the intent to do harm. The ACLU is latching on to this to hide their clear political motivation for opposing "Laci and Connor's Law".

I am, however, troubled that we are passing federal legislation to deal with crimes that should be governed at the state level. The federalization of law enforcement troubles me. Some crimes (such as kidnapping over state lines and smuggling over our borders) have to be fought at the federal level. Waco and Ruby Ridge (not to mention the so-called "Patriot Act") are reasons to distrust federal law enforcement. These laws are much better handled at the state level.

A federal ban on abortion is more justifiable than the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. With abortion, the 14th Amendment right of unborn children to equal protection under the law is denied. That isn't the case with criminal violence against the unborn. Some states already have laws similar to this on the books, and it is always illegal to attack a pregnant woman. Juries are not likely to be sympathetic to a monster who attacks a pregnant woman when issuing a punishment.

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act is a good law and should be passed, just not by the federal government.