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President signs rights for unborn victims

WASHINGTON (BP)–Federal law now recognizes an unborn child as a victim when he or she is harmed or killed in a crime against a pregnant woman.

President Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act into law April 1. Federal law has not treated an unborn child as a victim when he or she dies as a result of an assault against or murder of the mother, even though 29 states have laws that recognize the illegal killing of an unborn child as murder in at least some cases.

“This omission in the law has led to clear injustices,” Bush said before signing the bill. “The death of an innocent, unborn child has too often been treated as a detail in one crime but not a crime in itself.

“As of today, the law of our nation will acknowledge the plain fact that crimes of violence against pregnant woman often have two victims,” he said. “And therefore, in those cases, there are two offenses to be punished.”

Pro-life advocates applauded the president’s action.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commended Bush for signing a “just and compassionate bill into law.”

“This is a significant step forward in reasserting, for the unborn, the legal rights of all human beings,” Land said. “It is another reminder we are slowly but surely winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the American public when it comes to the personhood of unborn human beings. We should resolve to continue to pray and work until every unborn child has the same protections under the law that we as adults possess.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said it marked a “tremendous victory for the pro-life movement. We are now one giant step closer to rebuilding a culture of life, where every child –- born and unborn -– is given the protections they so clearly deserve.”

Abortion-rights advocates criticized the new law, even though it includes an exception for abortion. They have expressed fear that its recognition of the rights of the unborn would undermine the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion.

“This bill does nothing to protect women from violence -– instead, it is designed to establish a precedent that could be used to take away a woman’s right to choose,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. “The bill President Bush has signed into law today is yet another example of the misleading tactics that opponents of a woman’s right to choose are willing to employ.”

The president signed the bill during a brief, yet emotionally moving ceremony in the White House. Seven men and women who had lost children and/or grandchildren to violent assaults stood behind Bush as he spoke. When he signed the legislation, they stood closely behind him, their arms around each other or locked together.

When the president said to them in his eight-minute speech, “thank you all for your courage for coming today,” the 180 guests who filled the East Room gave them a prolonged standing ovation.

The measure was named Laci and Conner’s Law after the daughter and unborn grandson of Sharon Rocha of Modesto, Calif. Laci Peterson and her unborn son were killed in December 2002 allegedly by her husband, Scott. Rocha had worked for the bill’s passage. Her husband, Ron Grantski, joined her for the ceremony.

Conner’s “little soul never saw light, but he was loved, and he is remembered,” Bush said. “And his name is forever joined with that of his mom in this statute…. All who knew Laci Peterson have mourned two deaths, and the law cannot look away and pretend there was just one.”

Others at the ceremony were Buford and Carol Lyons of Kentucky, whose daughter and unborn grandson were killed; Stephanie Alberts of West Virginia, who lost her daughter and pre-born granddaughter; Cynthia Warner of Minnesota, whose daughter and unborn grandson were slain; and Tracy Marciniak-Seavers of Florida, who lost her pre-born son to an assault.

“The moral concern of humanity extends to those unborn children who are harmed or killed in crimes against their mothers,” Bush said. “And now the protection of federal law extends to those children as well. With this action, we widen the circle of compassion and inclusion in our society, and we reaffirm that the United States of America is building a culture of life.”

The signing ceremony followed final congressional action by only a week. The Senate voted 61-38 on passage of the bill March 25. It was the first time the Senate had voted on such a measure.

The House approved the bill in a 254-163 vote in late February, marking the third time it had passed such legislation. The House also approved an unborn victims bill in 1999 and 2001.

Rep. Melissa Hart, R.-Pa., was the chief sponsor of the House bill. Sen. Mike DeWine, R.-Ohio, sponsored the Senate version.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FOR THE UNBORN.