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House passes bill protecting unborn victims of violence

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives voted Sept. 30 to provide legal protection for unborn children when they are harmed during the commission of a federal crime.
The House voted 254-172 in favor of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. The bill would criminalize violence resulting in injury or death to an unborn child when it is committed during a violent federal offense against a pregnant woman. The punishment for such a crime against an unborn child would correspond to the penalty provided if the same harm were inflicted upon the mother.
While the legislation, H.R. 2436, does not apply to abortions consented to by the mother, opponents and advocates of abortion have squared off on the bill as if it were a major battle in the continuing struggle on the issue. Their reactions to the House vote demonstrated the significance they bestow on the measure.
The House vote is “a profoundly significant moment in pro-life history,” said Janet Parshall, spokesperson for Family Research Council, in a written release. “This action by Congress recognizes the personhood of the preborn child.”
A leading abortion rights advocate called the bill a “cynical and misguided piece of legislation.” Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, “This bill is designed for no other purpose but to erode the very foundation of Roe v. Wade.”
Roe v. Wade is the 1973 Supreme Court opinion that, in conjunction with a companion decision, had the effect of legalizing abortion throughout all stages of pregnancy.
“This legislation is a first step toward reclaiming the ground lost over the last 30 years in that it recognizes the life of the unborn as worthy of legal protection,” said Shannon Royce, legislative counsel of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Representatives turned back with a 224-201 vote an amendment by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D.-Calif., that would have severely weakened the bill. Though President Clinton has not promised to veto the measure, White House advisers have recommended he do so.
Supporters of the bill hope to gain a Senate vote this year, said a spokesman for Rep. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., the measure’s chief sponsor. They will need 60 votes to overcome an expected filibuster, he said.
Voting in favor of the bill in the House were 198 Republicans and 56 Democrats. “It’s not often you see Democrats and Republicans come together to pass an important piece of legislation,” Graham said in a written statement. “Make no bones about it, one party couldn’t have passed this by themselves.”
Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative director, said in a prepared statement, “It is shameful that, urged on by the pro-abortion lobby and the Clinton-Gore White House, 172 lawmakers voted to defend the cold-hearted concept that if a criminal injures a pregnant woman and kills her unborn child, nobody has died.”
Twenty-four states have laws that criminalize violent crimes against unborn children, including 11 that provide such protection throughout fetal development, according to NRLC. One state adopting such a law this year was Arkansas, where prosecutors recently charged with capital murder a father and three young men in the beating of a mother whose unborn baby died in the ninth month as a result.