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Senate Democrats Stall Unborn Victims Bill With Amendments on Unrelated Issues

Aug 5, 2003 | Unborn Victims of Violence

WASHINGTON (August 5, 2003) – The U.S. Senate began a month-long recess on August 1 with action on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act still not formally scheduled, because Democratic senators opposed to the bill are insisting that they want to offer amendments on entirely unrelated issues.

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA, S. 1019) would recognize an unborn child as a legal victim if he or she is injured or killed during commission of a federal crime.

NRLC helped originate the bill in 1999, and was instrumental in winning approval of the bill in the House of Representatives in 1999 and again in 2001. The Senate never took up the issue, however, because of strong opposition from pro-abortion groups such as NARAL and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. These groups have opposed the UVVA even though it does not apply to legal abortion or to actions of the mother with respect to her own unborn child.

In recent months, a number of surviving family members of unborn victims have been pushing for the bill, including Sharon Rocha, whose daughter Laci Peterson and unborn grandson Conner Peterson were murdered in California last December. Since May, the bill has sometimes been referred to as “Laci and Conner’s Law,” in response to a request to the sponsors from Sharon Rocha and the members of the family of Laci and Conner.

On July 23, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tn.), a strong supporter of the bill, took the Senate floor to formally propose an agreement to take up the bill, debate it for two hours, and vote on it. This proposal was blocked by an objection made by Senator Harry Reid (D-Nv.) on behalf of Senate Democrats. Reid said that Democrats would soon produce a list of amendments that they wish to offer to the bill.

Amendments to Bill

In subsequent back-room negotiations, Democrats said they wish to offer three amendments.

One of these is a “substitute amendment” – a complete alternate bill – that would be offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.). UVVA supporters refer to this as “the single-victim substitute.” It would increase penalties for federal crimes in which the victim happens to be a pregnant woman, but would not recognize any loss of human life when an unborn child dies in such a crime, or otherwise recognize the unborn child as a victim.

Supporters of the UVVA have always recognized that it would be necessary to defeat such a “single-victim” substitute in order to win approval of the UVVA. The House of Representatives rejected such a substitute (the Lofgren Amendment) in 1999 and in 2001 before it approved the UVVA.

However, Democrats said they also wish to offer two other measures as amendments to the UVVA – neither of which is related to the legal status of unborn children under federal criminal law, which is the subject of the bill.

While the Democrats have not produced the entire text of their amendments, one, to be offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.), apparently would make many ordinary crimes of violence, currently governed by state laws, into federal crimes if the victims are under age 18.

A second proposed amendment, to be offered by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa.), apparently would make extensive changes to the federal welfare statutes, which Murray says would affect the prevalence of “domestic violence.”

“The Feinstein single-victim substitute is antithetical to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, but it is germain,” commented NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “In contrast, the Boxer and Murray amendments represent obstructionist tactics. They are the latest in a series of delaying efforts on the part of senators who fear a straightforward debate over whether a crime of violence against a pregnant woman claims one victim or two victims.”

In a June 16 letter to Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Rocha wrote, “If you, as Democratic leader, were also to announce your support, I believe that the bill would quickly become law. But without your support, the bill might be weighed down with controversial amendments on unrelated issues and other obstructionist tactics that could keep it from passing.”

Daschle has since told reporters and constituents that he agrees with Frist that the issue should be considered by the full Senate “expeditiously.” But there is no evidence that he has used his leadership authority to discourage Boxer or Murray from their strategy of trying to obstruct the bill by tying it to unrelated and controversial issues.

Despite the Democrats’ tactics, as the Senate began its month-long summer recess on August 1, Frist made it clear that he was determined to force Senate action on the UVVA this fall.

Single-Victim Substitute

NRLC’s Johnson said, “The greatest threat to the unborn victims bill is the Feinstein single-victim substitute. It is absolutely necessary that at least 50 senators vote against the Feinstein substitute, if crimes against unborn children are going to be recognized in federal law.”

In a July 7 letter to Senator John Kerry (D_Mass.)– who has expressed support for the “single-victim” approach– Sharon Rocha wrote that “adoption of such a single-victim proposal would be a painful blow to those, like me, who are left to grieve after a two-victim crime, because Congress would be saying that Conner and other innocent 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.”

Similar counsel was presented to the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee at a July 8 hearing on the issue, by Tracy Marciniak, whose unborn son Zachariah was killed when Marciniak was brutally assaulted in 1992, during the ninth month of her pregnancy.

Marciniak condemned the single-victim” approach, which is sponsored in the House by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Ca.) as H.R. 2247. Marciniak said any lawmaker who votes for the single-victim proposal “would be saying to all of the future mothers, fathers, and grandparents, who lose their unborn children in future federal crimes, ‘You didn’t really lose a baby.’ Please don’t tell us that. Please don’t tell me that my son was not a real murder victim.”

(The complete July 8 testimony of Tracy Marciniak appears on pages 33-34 of the July issue of NRL News, and is posted on the NRLC website at http://nrlc.org///federal/unbornvictims/MarciniakTestimony. An NRLC ad that includes the photo of Tracy and Zachariah Marciniak appeared on page 35 of the July issue ofNRL News, and it can be viewed or downloaded from the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org/uploads/unbornvictims/UVVA – Dont tell me.pdf.

Polls Show Strong Support

A nationwide poll conducted by Opinion Dynamics for the Fox News Channel July 15-16 asked, “If a violent physical attack on a pregnant woman leads to the death of her unborn child, do you think prosecutors should be able to charge the attacker with murder for killing the fetus?” 79% responded “yes,” while only 10% responded “no.” Even 69% of the respondents who described themselves as “pro-choice” responded “yes” to this question.

Asked “do you think prosecutors should treat the death of an eight-month-old fetus more harshly than, more leniently than or the same as the death of a three-month-old fetus?,” 70% of respondents said “the same,” while 18% said “more harshly.”

A nationwide scientific poll conducted by Newsweek in late May found that 84% of adults nationwide believe that prosecutors should be able to bring a separate homicide charge on behalf of a fetus killed in the womb during a crime. That total includes a clear majority – 56% – who believe such a charge should apply at any point during pregnancy, and another 28% who would apply it after the baby is “viable” (i.e., with sufficient lung development to survive outside the mother). Only 9% said that a homicide charge should never be allowed on behalf of a fetus.

As of August 5, 36 senators have sponsored or cosponsored the UVVA – 35 Republicans and one Democrat (Ben Nelson of Nebraska).

But dozens of senators have not yet stated clear positions on the unborn victims issue, on which the Senate has never voted.

On April 25, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters that President Bush wants see congressional approval of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act “this year,” noting, “The President does believe that when an unborn child is injured or killed during the commission of a crime of violence, the law should recognize what most people immediately recognize, and that is that such a crime has two victims.”

Not a Substitute for State Laws

Twenty-eight states already have laws that recognize unborn children as legal crime victims. This number includes 15 states that apply the “two-victim principle” throughout the baby’s prenatal development, and 13 that apply the protection at some specified point during pregnancy, which varies from state to state. (For a summary of these state laws, see the NRLC website at http://nrlc.org///federal/unbornvictims/Statehomicidelaws092302)

The UVVA would apply to unborn children injured or killed during commission of violent federal crimes, such as bombings, interstate stalkings, and crimes in federal and military jurisdictions.

“Most homicides and assaults are covered by state law, not federal law,” explained NRLC’s Johnson. “While enactment of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act is urgently needed to allow justice to be done on behalf of unborn children harmed in federal crimes, the bill is not a substitute for strong state unborn victims laws.”

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