Communications Department

U.S. House Passes Ban on State Execution of “Child in Utero”

Jul 25, 2000 | 2000 Press Releases

WASHINGTON – By a vote of 417-0, U.S. House of Representatives today approved a bill to prohibit any state from executing a woman who “carries a child in utero,” defined as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

The bill is The Innocent Child Protection Act (H.R. 4888), sponsored by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.) and supported by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson commented, “The House has emphatically declared that the government must never execute an innocent unborn child. Al Gore recently took a contrary position, saying the pregnant woman should be allowed to have her unborn child executed along with her.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by the U.S. and 143 other nations, flatly states, “Sentence of death . . . shall not be carried out on pregnant women.” Under a 1994 law, a federal death sentence cannot be carried out on a pregnant woman. H.R. 4888 would apply the same “innocent child principle” to state executions. The bill says that no state or federal authority, including the military, may “carry out a sentence of death on a woman while she carries a child in utero. . . .‘child in utero’ means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

H.R. 4888 was introduced last week after Vice President Gore rejected the innocent child principle. According to the July 18 New York Times, “Mr. Gore said he favored allowing a pregnant woman to choose whether to delay her execution until she gave birth. ‘The principle of a woman’s right to choose governs in that case,’ he said.”

Opponents say the bill is “unnecessary,” since in the U.S. years pass between a woman’s incarceration and her execution. However, as Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Ca.) said on June 22 (speaking for an unsuccessful amendment to remove a ban on the funding of abortions by the Bureau of Prisons), “We know that women become pregnant in prison, from rape or from having a relationship with one of the guards.”

An NRLC factsheet on the history of the innocent child principle is available at or by e-mailing a request to