Statement of Congressman Charles T.
House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee
H.R. 2436: The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 1999
Wednesday, July 21, 1999
This afternoon the Subcommittee on the Constitution convenes to hear testimony concerning H.R. 2436: The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 1999.
Under current federal law, an individual who commits a federal crime of violence against a pregnant woman receives no additional punishment for killing or injuring the woman's unborn child during the commission of that crime. Therefore, except in those States that recognize unborn children as victims of such crimes, injuring or killing an unborn child during the commission of a violent crime has no legal consequence whatsoever.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act was designed to address this deficiency in the law by providing that an individual who injures or kills an unborn child during the commission of certain predefined violent federal crimes may be punished for a separate offense. By its own terms, the Act does not apply to " conduct relating to an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman has been obtained or for which such consent is implied by law in a medical emergency." The Act also does not permit prosecution "of any person for any medical treatment of the pregnant woman or her unborn child," or "of any woman with respect to her unborn child."
The Act further provides that the punishment for the offense against the unborn child will be the same punishment that would have been imposed under federal law had that conduct resulted in the same injury to the mother. For example, if an individual assaults a member of Congress in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 115, and as a result of that assault kills the Congresswoman's unborn child, the perpetrator may be punished for voluntary manslaughter for killing the unborn child the same punishment the individual would have received had the Congresswoman died as a result of the assault.
In that respect the Act is consistent with the well-settled criminal law doctrine of transferred intent, which provides that when an individual acts with the intent to harm one person, and during the course of the offense hurts another, the law considers the perpetrator to be just as guilty of harming the second as the first. Thus, if A shoots a gun at B with the intent to kill, and the bullet goes through a wall and kills C, A is guilty of murdering C.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act will enable prosecutors to bring to justice criminals like these: Reginald Anthony Falice, who on April 28, 1998, shot his eight-months-pregnant wife, Ruth Croston, five times as she sat at a red light in Charlotte, North Carolina. Falice was convicted by a federal jury just last week for interstate domestic violence and using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime, but because federal law does not currently recognize the unborn as victims, he received no additional punishment for killing the near-term infant.
Or the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in New York, killing Monica Smith, a pregnant secretary, and her unborn child. Jurors at one trial of the perpetrators were told of the harm inflicted upon Ms. Smith's unborn child, but no additional punishment is provided under federal law for the child's death.
Or the criminals who planted a bomb just outside Tammy Lynn Baker's apartment in Louisa, Virginia. Ms. Baker was near term with her unborn child when the bomb exploded on December 3, 1997, killing her and her child. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms is still investigating the bombing, but even if the perpetrators are found they will receive no additional punishment for killing Ms. Baker's unborn child.
A similar incident occurred in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, on January 1, 1999, when Deanna Mitts, who was eight months pregnant, returned home from a New Year's Eve celebration with her three-year-old daughter Kayla. A bomb exploded in the apartment, killing Ms. Mitts, Kayla, and the unborn child. Federal and local authorities are still looking for those responsible for this vicious crime, but even if the criminal is caught he will not be punished for killing Ms. Mitts's unborn child.
By enacting H.R. 2436, Congress will ensure that criminals who commit violent acts against pregnant women, such as those I've just mentioned and others we will hear about from our witnesses today, are justly punished for injuring or killing unborn children. Without the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, the crimes against these innocent victims will continue to go unpunished.