The U.S. Senate passed a bill last Thursday that would make it a
separate offense to harm a fetus during an attack on a pregnant
woman. An amendment to the bill that focused on abortion rights was
proposed by California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but was
narrowly rejected by the Senate.
The legislation was introduced after the murder of Laci Peterson
while she was pregnant. The act establishes that an assailant who
commits a federal violent crime against a pregnant woman can be
prosecuted for two federal crimes-one against the woman and one
against her unborn child. It passed the Senate 61-38 and was sent
to President Bush who is expected to sign it into law.
“This bill recognizes that there are two victims,” said Sen.
Mike DeWine R-Ohio, chief sponsor of the bill. “It’s as simple as
But the language of the bill has abortion rights advocates
highly concerned. They say that for the first time the bill creates
legal rights for fetuses at the time of conception.
“This bill establishes exactly what the right-to-life movement
wants to establish,” Feinstein said, according to an article in the
San Francisco Chronicle. “It sets the stage for a jurist to rule
that a human being at any stage of development deserves protection,
meaning deserves rights under the law.”
Feinstein’s proposal would have erased the language about
fetuses in the womb. The proposal, which would have imposed the
same tough penalties outlined in the bill but would have classified
attacks on a pregnant woman as a single victim crime, lost in a
Sen. Rick Santorium R-Penn., said the Feinstein amendment was
“all about denying the humanity of the child” and that abortion
rights proponents were trying to defeat the bill “to protect this
right that is not even at stake here today.”
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban
The first lawsuits against the partial-birth abortion ban were
being heard in three courtrooms across the country last Monday as
abortion rights activists argued that the law is so broad that it
infringes on women’s basic right to choose.
The law signed in November by President Bush, has not been
enforced because judges in New York, Nebraska and San Francisco
agreed to hear evidence in three separate trials to decide whether
it violates the constitution.
For the next three to four weeks, conflicting testimonies will
be heard from medical experts about the two issues that hold the
key to the constitutionality of the law: whether the ban would
endanger women’s health and whether it would interfere with the
right to abortion.
Supporters say the law prohibits only a specific procedure,
called intact dilation and extraction by the medical community,
which is performed about 2,200 times a year nationwide, generally
late in the second trimester of pregnancy.
Opponents, including the American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists, say that the ban is much broader than that and could
apply to common types of abortions after the first twelve weeks of
pregnancy, about 12 percent of the more than one million abortions
performed each year.
The case may have other significance, apart from the abortions
that would be outlawed. Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court
struck down a similar state law in Nebraska.
A federal law would override more protective abortion laws in
states like California. Other federal restrictions have already
been proposed, including a law that that would allow hospitals and
health organizations to cut ties with doctors that perform
abortions, a ban on the “abortion pill” RU-486 and a prohibition on
taking a minor across state lines for an abortion without informing