Senate Republican Leadership Seeks Action on Unborn Victims of Violence Act, But Democrats Resist.
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is working hard for congressional approval of the bill, which would recognize as legal crime victims unborn children who are injured or killed during the commission of violent federal crimes. A number of surviving family members of unborn victims are also pushing for the bill, including Sharon Rocha, whose daughter Laci Peterson and unborn grandson Conner Peterson were murdered in California last December.
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.
"Pro-abortion groups such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood insist that crimes like the Peterson murder have only a single victim," explained NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. "At the urging of these groups, pro-abortion senators continue to obstruct the bill behind the scenes, just as they have done for the past five years."
Since May, the bill has sometimes been referred to as "Laci and Conner's Law," in response to a request to the sponsors from the members of the family of Laci and Conner.
According to recent press reports and other sources, in recent weeks, Sharon Rocha has sent personal letters to a number of senators, imploring them to support the UVVA and to oppose a competing proposal (called a "substitute amendment") being promoted by opponents of the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tn.), who supports the UVVA, has said that he wants to bring the UVVA up before August 1, which is the beginning of a month-long congressional recess. But so far, Democratic leaders have been unwilling to enter into what is called a "unanimous consent agreement," under which opponents of the bill would not be allowed to filibuster or to encumber the bill with amendments made up of entire bills on unrelated controversial issues.
On July 3, the Washington Times reported on a June 16 letter sent by Rocha to Daschle, in which she 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."
The Times story quoted a spokesman for Daschle saying that the Democratic leader had responded with a letter - - apparently, a letter similar to or the same as the one that Daschle has been sending to constituents. In the letter to constituents, Daschle observes, "The Laci Peterson case is a tragic reminder that, in many instances of violence against women, not only the woman is harmed," but does not say whether he will support the UVVA.
In the letter, Daschle also says, "I agree with the Republican Leader that Congress should consider this issue expeditiously." Despite that statement, however, as of mid-July, Daschle had still not agreed to Frist's requests to allow the bill to be considered in a timely and orderly fashion.
Rocha also sent a June 16 letter to the chief sponsors of the UVVA, Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Congresswoman Melissa Hart (R-Pa.), and to other key sponsors, in which she urged them to ignore opponents who have claimed that it is inappropriate to link the bill to the Peterson murder case.
"I assure you that we do not see it that way," Rocha wrote. "On the contrary, we believe that our case does provide a powerful illustration of why this type of law is absolutely necessary, and we urge you to continue to point [to] that connection." (Sharon Rocha's complete June 16 letter to the UVVA sponsors is posted at: http://www.nrlc.org/Unborn_victims/sharonrochalettertokeysponsors. html).
A 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% 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.
When the UVVA does reach the Senate floor, senators aligned with the abortion lobby are expected to offer a substitute proposal dubbed by UVVA supporters as the "single-victim substitute." This competing proposal would increase penalties for federal crimes in which the victims happened to be pregnant women - - but it would not recognize the killing of an unborn child as a homicide, or in any other way recognize the unborn child as a crime victim.
In a July 7 letter to Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) - - who has expressed support for the "single-victim" approach - - 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."
As of July 11, 35 senators had sponsored or cosponsored the UVVA, only one a Democrat (Ben Nelson of Nebraska). (The list is available at the Legislative Action Center on the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org.) But dozens of senators have not yet stated a position 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 to 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."
The House of Representatives approved the UVVA by sizeable margins in 1999 and again in 2001. This time, the House leadership is expected to wait for Senate action before bringing the bill to the House floor.
Nevertheless, on July 8, the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee conducted a public hearing on the House version of the bill (H.R. 1997), which is sponsored by Congresswoman Melissa Hart (R-Pa.).
Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the chairman of the panel and a cosponsor of the UVVA, said the bill will "ensure that criminals who commit violent acts against pregnant women are justly punished for injuring or killing unborn children, while affirmatively acknowledging to grieving family members that their deceased loved ones are recognized under the law."
The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), voiced strong opposition to the UVVA.
"We should have no illusions about the purpose of this bill," Nadler said, calling it "yet another battle in the war of symbols in the abortion debate, in which opponents of [abortion] attempt to establish that fetuses, from the earliest moments of conception, are persons with the same rights as the adult women who are carrying them."
The subcommittee heard compelling testimony from Tracy Marciniak, whose unborn son Zachariah was killed when Marciniak was brutally assaulted in 1992, during the ninth month of her pregnancy.
Marciniak began by directing the attention of panel members to a poster-sized enlargement of a photograph of her holding Zachariah at his funeral.
"I ask you and the other members of the committee to look at this photograph and ask yourselves: Does it show one victim, or two?" Marciniak said. "If you look at this photo and see two victims - - a dead baby and a grieving mother who survived a brutal assault - - then you should support the Unborn Victims of Violence Act."
Because the killing occurred in Wisconsin, which at that time had no unborn victims law, "I was told that in the eyes of the law, no murder had occurred," she said. "I was devastated."
Marciniak and family members of other unborn victims later teamed up with Wisconsin Right to Life and won enactment of a strong state unborn victims law in 1998.
Marciniak condemned the "single-victim" substitute (sponsored in the House by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Ca., as H.R. 2247). She 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."
(An NRLC ad that includes the photo of Tracy and Zachariah Marciniak appears on page 35 of this issue. The ad can be viewed or downloaded from the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org/Unborn_victims/UVVA%20-%20Dont%20 tell%20me.pdf. The complete July 8 testimony of Tracy Marciniak appears on page 33 of this issue, and is posted on the NRLC website at http://www.nrlc.org/ Unborn_victims/MarciniakTestimony.htm.)
Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life of America, also testified in favor of the UVVA, saying, "If the legal system does not recognize the loss of the unborn child, it becomes an unwitting agent of the perpetrator who robbed the survivors of the child and the life they would have had together."
Gerald Bradley of the University of Notre Dame School of Law testified that courts have consistently ruled that state unborn victims laws do not conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that require legal abortion.
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://www.nrlc.org/Unborn_victims/Statehomicidelaws092302.html.)
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. The bill does not apply to legal abortion or to actions of the mother with respect to her own unborn child.
Juley Fulcher, the public policy director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, testified against the UVVA.
"The goal of the act is to create a new cause of action on behalf of the unborn and further a specific political agenda," Fulcher asserted. "The result is that the crime committed against a pregnant woman is no longer about the woman victimized by violence. Instead, the focus often will be shifted to the impact of that crime on the unborn embryo or fetus."
NRLC's Douglas Johnson observed later that "Fulcher's statement really makes no sense at all, since under the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, an unborn victim charge could be filed only if a criminal violates one of 68 federal laws listed in the bill, all of which already cover the pregnant woman. Therefore, the UVVA takes absolutely nothing away from current legal protections for women - - it only adds additional protections for children in utero."
Johnson noted that although groups such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood strongly oppose UVVA and state unborn victims laws, even some prominent pro-abortion advocates have parted company with these groups on this issue.
Among these is Walter Dellinger, professor of law at Duke University, who co-chaired a NARAL commission to defend Roe v. Wade in the early 1990s. Dellinger later held several high-level appointments from President Clinton, including assistant attorney general and acting U.S. Solicitor General. Regarding unborn victims laws, Dellinger said, "I don't think they undermine Roe v. Wade. The legislatures can decide that fetuses are deserving of protection without having to make any judgment that the entity being protected has freestanding constitutional rights. I just think that proposals like this ought to be considered on their own merit." (News-Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, July 13, 2003).
The NRLC website at www.nrlc. org contains the best collection of documentation on the subject of unborn victims of violence available anywhere on the internet. Specifically, see the Unborn Victims section at http://www. nrlc.org/Unborn_Victims/index.html.
The documents available on the website include a description of current state unborn victim laws, state by state; a summary of numerous federal and state court rulings that laws recognizing unborn victims of violent crimes do not contradict U.S. Supreme Court decisions on abortion; and accounts of actual cases of crimes, including crimes in federal jurisdictions, in which mothers and their unborn children were killed or suffered grievous injury.
NRLC Spokespersons Challenge Pro-Abortion Groups on Unborn Victims of Violence
NRLC spokespersons are available for interviews on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, or for broadcast debates with representatives of organizations that are lobbying in support of the single-victim position. If you know of a talk show host or other representative who wishes to schedule such an interview or debate, refer them to NRLC at 202-626-8820 or Legfederal@aol.com.
One such exchange, between NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson and Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Gloria Feldt, occurred on the program Which Way, L.A.? on NPR affiliate KCRW-FM in Los Angeles on May 29. Pressed by host Warren Olney, Feldt finally acknowledged that "the victim" (i.e., the only victim) in the Peterson case was Laci Peterson - - not her unborn son Conner. You can listen to an audio file of the exchange on the NRLC website (requires free RealPlayer software).>EN
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|Publication:||National Right to Life News|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2003|
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