U.S. Senate passes Unborn Victims of
April 2, 2004
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON - Passage of the
Unborn Victims of Violence Act by the U.S. Senate drew praise from pro-life
groups and criticism from advocates of keeping abortion legal.
"We applaud the Senate for voting
for justice for women and their children," said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, director of
planning and information for the U.S. Catholic bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life
"No woman should ever be told she lost nothing
when she loses her child to a brutal attacker," Ruse added.
The Senate approved the bill by a vote of
61-38 March 25. It had passed in the House Feb. 26 by a vote of 254-163.
President Bush said he looked forward to
signing it into law. "Pregnant women who have been harmed by violence, and their
families, know that there are two victims - the mother and the unborn child -
and both victims should be protected by federal law," he said.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive
Democratic candidate for president this fall, voted against the bill.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act is also
known as "Laci and Conner's Law" after Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner,
whose disappearance and death drew national attention. The California woman was
nearly eight months pregnant when she disappeared in December 2002; Laci and
Conner's bodies were found the following April.
Under the law, anyone who harms a woman's
unborn child while committing a federal crime, such as assaulting the woman on
federal property, commits a distinct federal crime against the child in addition
to the crime against the woman.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., lost by a
50-49 vote on her attempt to replace the measure with a "single victim"
substitute bill which would have eliminated language defining an unborn child as
"a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is
carried in the womb."
Her substitute proposal would have increased
penalties for an attack on a pregnant woman by adding a second charge of harm to
the pregnancy, avoiding any mention of a second victim.
Although the legislation adopted specifically
excludes any application to voluntary abortion, Feinstein called it "the first
strike against all abortion in the United States."
The week before the Senate vote Cardinal
William H. Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life
Activities, urged passage of the bill. "This bill simply ensures that both
mother and child are protected from violent assault and murder," he said.
Ruse, responding to attacks on the legislation
by supporters of legal abortion, said, "We are grateful to the Senate for
ignoring the offensive claims of the abortion lobby and its allies in Congress.
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
Maggie Gray, president of the
National Council of Catholic Women, said passage of the new legislation
"closes a 'justice gap' for unborn children by recognizing their injuries and
providing legal redress."
Father Frank Pavone national director of
Priests for Life, said the Senate vote "is another sign that our legal system is
experiencing a new moment of awareness in regard to the unborn child."