UPDATED: Senate Passes Bill Criminalizing Harm to 'Unborn Children'

by TChris

The Senate is considering a bill today that would make it a federal crime to cause the death of, or injury to, a fetus during the commission of other federal crimes. A similar bill has passed the House, and the legislation is supported by the President.

Update: The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 61-38. It will be now be sent to the President for his promised signature.

The Senate bill makes it a separate federal crime to injure or kill an "unborn child" during the commission of specified federal crimes. An "unborn child" is defined "as a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb." The government would not be required to prove that the person causing the harm knew that the woman was pregnant or that he intended to harm the "unborn child." The bill prohibits prosecution of the pregnant woman, of health care providers who are treating the woman, and of persons providing or assisting in an abortion with the woman's consent. The penalty is the same as the penalty for the underlying crime; that is, if the defendant is facing a 20 year maximum for harming the pregnant woman, he would face a separate charge with a 20 year maximum for harming the fetus. The bill does, however, exclude the death penalty as a possible punishment for causing the death of a fetus. (To read the text of the bill, go here and type "S. 146" into the field that says "Bill number.")

Recognizing that a pregnant woman suffers additional harm when an assault upon her also injures her fetus is quite a different thing than treating the fetus as an additional victim of the crime. Opponents of the bill argue that, despite the abortion exception, the law is designed to further the interests of abortion opponents.

[A]bortion rights groups rallied around an alternative, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California that would give tougher penalties for an attack that damages or destroys a pregnancy, but does not define life as beginning at conception or giving the fetus legal rights as person.

Feinstein said her alternative "focuses on the harm to the woman's pregnancy rather than defining when human life begins." That's exactly where the focus should be. It makes little conceptual sense to treat a fetus -- the existence of which can be legally ended by a pregnant woman -- as a separate crime victim. The victim is the woman, and laws protecting pregnant women from unwanted harm to a fetus should be written to reflect that reality.

As TalkLeft reported last year, the death of Laci Peterson during her pregnancy provided the impetus for this unwise bill.

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