WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives passed a measure April 26 to provide legal protection for unborn children who are harmed during a violent crime against their mothers.
Despite strong opposition from abortion advocates, the House approved the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, H.R. 503, with a 252-172 vote. The floor action came after a substitute amendment that would have essentially gutted the bill failed by 229-196.
The legislation would criminalize violence resulting in injury or death to an unborn child when it is committed during a federal offense against a pregnant woman. Under the bill, a person convicted of injuring or killing a child would be guilty of the same crime that would result from injury or death to the mother. Twenty-four states already have similar laws.
Afterward, President Bush commended the House for its vote, saying in a written statement the measure “affirms our commitment to a culture of life, which welcomes and protects children.”
Before the vote, the White House issued a statement in support of the bill, saying the administration supports “protection for unborn children.” The statement also said the White House “would strongly oppose” any amendment that would define crimes involving an unborn child as having only one victim.
An amendment offered by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D.-Calif., would have done just that. Lofgren’s substitute, which was supported by abortion advocacy organizations, would have increased penalties for interfering with a pregnancy but would have defined the pregnant woman as the only victim in the crime.
Thirty-seven Democrats joined with 191 Republicans and an independent to defeat Lofgren’s amendment. On final passage of the original bill, 198 Republicans, 53 Democrats and an independent voted in support.
The bipartisan support for the bill “underscores that Americans are both serious about stopping violence against women and that they realize there is a precious person in a mother’s womb,” Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said.
“This is not about the politicization of abortion; it is about common sense,” said Mitchell, a consultant to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and an associate professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. “We must protect women and their children against violent assault. This is about the victimization of the most vulnerable, and everyone knows it. Only the most strident idealogue could oppose the bill.”
Though the bill specifically exempts abortions consented to by the mother, the campaign against the measure by abortion advocacy organizations was similar to the ones they regularly mount against bills they say restrict the right to abortion established by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion. On the other side, nearly all pro-life organizations offered strong backing for the measure.
After the vote, Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, said in a written release the bill “threatens to set the stage for overturning Roe v. Wade.”
ERLC President Richard Land said abortion advocates opposing the bill “just don’t want any acknowledgment of the personhood of the unborn child.”
Rep. Lindsay Graham, R.-S.C., is chief sponsor of the legislation.
Last year, the House voted 254-172 for the bill, but the Senate failed to act on it.