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Press Conference: Statement of Douglas Johnson, NRLC Legislative Director

Jan 22, 2004 | 2004 Press Releases

Statement by Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director, National Right to Life Committee
January 22, 2004 on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act
                                                   

The next major piece of pro-life legislation to be considered in Congress will be the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as “Laci and Conner’s Law.”  This bill, which is supported by President Bush, is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) (S. 1019), and in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Melissa Hart (R-Pa.) (H.R. 1997).  The bill recognizes that when a criminal attacks a pregnant woman, and injures or kills her unborn child, he has claimed two human victims.  The bill would establish that if an unborn child is injured or killed during the commission of an already-defined federal crime of violence, then the assailant may be charged with a second offense on behalf of the second victim, the unborn child.

The argument over this legislation boils down to one basic question:  In a crime in which both a woman and her unborn child are injured or killed, is there one victim, or are there two?

This is a question that has come into sharp focus for the American people over the past year, due to the enormous public interest in the double homicide of Laci Peterson and her unborn son Conner in California.  In three national polls conducted on the issue over the past year, Americans have expressed approval of laws recognizing the unborn child as a homicide victim by margins of between 8-to-1 and 12-to-1.  (These polls are posted on the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org/unbornvictims )

Among those urging congressional approval of the bill has been Sharon Rocha, the mother of Laci and grandmother of Conner.   President Bush called for action on the bill in his remarks today to the March for Life.

In current federal criminal law, an unborn child is not recognized as a victim with respect to violent crimes.  Thus, a bombing that injured a woman and killed her unborn child would not currently be recognized as involving any loss of human life.  If Laci Peterson had been a captain in the Army and killed within a military jurisdiction, under the current Uniform Code of Military Justice it would have been viewed as only a single homicide.

The bill explicitly provides that it does not apply to any abortion to which a woman has consented, to any act of the mother herself  (legal or illegal), or to any form of medical treatment.

This legislation was approved by the House in 1999 and in 2001, and yesterday (January 21, 2004), it was again approved by the House Judiciary Committee, 20-13.  The Senate, however, has never taken up the issue of unborn victims.  Majority Leader Frist strongly supports the bill, and he has repeatedly attempted to bring the bill to the Senate floor, only to be obstructed by objections from Democratic senators.  Senator Frist’s staff now says that he is determined to force action on the bill during the months ahead.

As of today, twenty-eight (28) states have enacted laws which recognize unborn children as human victims of violent crimes covered by state laws.  Fifteen (15) of these states provide this protection throughout the period of in utero development, while the other 13 provide protection during certain specified stages of development.  In addition, unborn victims legislation is currently under active consideration in several other states, including Kentucky and Virginia.  The laws are listed and summarized on the NRLC website.

It is well established that fetal homicide laws do not conflict with the Supreme Court’s pro-abortion decrees (Roe v. Wade, etc.).  Criminal defendants have brought many legal challenges to state unborn victims laws, based on Roe and other constitutional arguments, and all such challenges have been rejected by state and federal courts.  Indeed, in 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the most comprehensive of all of these laws to go into effect –  the Missouri “Unborn Child Amendment,”  under which the “unborn child” enjoys full legal recognition in all areas of state law, “from conception,” except in the area of abortion, where Roe v. Wade controls.

The U.S. Senate would have passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act long ago, but for the vehement opposition of pro-abortion groups such as NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU.  Despite the explicit exclusion for abortion, despite the numerous favorable court decisions, and despite the overwhelming public support for legal recognition of the unborn child as a homicide victim, these groups insist that the law must always be blind to the existence of unborn members of the species homo sapiens.  In short, they insist that a crime like the Peterson murder has only one victim.   Even though only 10 percent of the public agrees, these groups are demanding that senators adopt the position that there can never be an unborn victim of a crime, and a number of senators – including Senator John Kerry – have already complied.

These organizations have persuaded their congressional allies to put forward a counterproposal which would actually codify the irrational view that there are no unborn victims of violence.  We call this the “single-victim substitute.”  The chief sponsors are Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Ca.) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.).  This proposal would increase penalties when a federal crime “causes an interruption to the normal course of the pregnancy,” but without recognizing a second victim.  This approach is both callous and incoherent.

Sharon Rocha – whose daughter Laci and unborn grandson Conner were murdered in California – has written that “adoption of such a single-victim amendment would be a painful blow to those, like me, who are left alive after a two-victim crime, because Congress would be saying that Conner and other innocent unborn victims like him are not really victims – indeed, that they never really existed at all.  But our grandson did live.  He had a name, he was loved, and his life was violently taken from him before he ever saw the sun.”