Does the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA), Protecting Fetal Rights, Threaten Abortion Rights?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The “Unborn Victims of Violence Act” (UVVA), which was signed into law by President Bush on Apr. 1, 2004, stated:
Sec. 1841. Protection of unborn children
(a)(1) Whoever engages in conduct that violates any of the provisions of law listed in subsection (b) and thereby causes the death of, or bodily injury (as defined in section 1365) to, a child, who is in utero at the time the conduct takes place, is guilty of a separate offense under this section.
(2)(A) Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph, the punishment for that separate offense is the same as the punishment provided under Federal law for that conduct had that injury or death occurred to the unborn child’s mother.
(B) An offense under this section does not require proof that–
(i) the person engaging in the conduct had knowledge or should have had knowledge that the victim of the underlying offense was pregnant; or
(ii) the defendant intended to cause the death of, or bodily injury to, the unborn child.
(C) If the person engaging in the conduct thereby intentionally kills or attempts to kill the unborn child, that person shall instead of being punished under subparagraph (A), be punished… for intentionally killing or attempting to kill a human being.
(D) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the death penalty shall not be imposed for an offense under this section…
(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the prosecution–
(1) of any person for conduct relating to an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman, or a person authorized by law to act on her behalf, has been obtained or for which such consent is implied by law;
(2) of any person for any medical treatment of the pregnant woman or her unborn child; or
(3) of any woman with respect to her unborn child.
(d) As used in this section, the term ‘unborn child’ means a child in utero, and the term ‘child in utero’ or ‘child, who is in utero’ means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”Apr. 1, 2004 - Unborn Victims of Violence Act
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in its June 17, 2003 “Interested Persons Memo on Attempts to Create Fetal Rights: The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2003 (S. 1019, S. 146, H.R. 1997),” wrote:
“The ACLU fully supports efforts to punish acts of violence against women that harm or terminate a wanted pregnancy. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act is an inappropriate method of imposing such punishment, however, because it dangerously seeks to separate the woman from her fetus in the eyes of the law…
By creating a separate offense for injury to a fetus, this bill attempts to endow the fetus with legal rights distinct from the woman who has been injured. This legislation would thus dramatically alter the existing legal framework by elevating the fetus to an unprecedented status in federal law…
This bill ignores the unity between the pregnant woman and the fetus she carries. Penalty enhancements appropriately punish criminal behavior while embracing that unity.”June 17, 2003
The National Organization for Women (NOW), a feminist advocacy organization, in a section of its May 2003 Equality Report entitled “‘Unborn Victims’ Act Does Nothing to Deter Violence Against Women,” wrote that:
“This legislation is being championed as a measure that would limit violence against women, but it is actually nothing more than a poorly disguised attempt to elevate fetal rights and establish the legal personhood of a fetus. By according statutory legal status to fetuses at all stages of prenatal development, the UVVA undermines the foundation of the Roe v. Wade decision. The UVVA would create a separate criminal offense of killing or injuring an ‘unborn child’ while committing a federal crime against a pregnant woman… The passage of this bill would set a devastating precedent and encourage the expansion of ‘fetal rights’ into other areas of the law. This would fundamentally challenge a woman’s right to an abortion and is clearly a part of the anti-reproductive rights forces’ agenda to dismantle Roe v. Wade.”May 2003
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA), in its Feb. 5, 2004 pamphlet titled “The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2003,” stated:
“The Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA)… charges offenders with a separate offense for causing the death or injury of a child who is in-utero at the time of the attack, with punishment analogous to the killing or attempted killing of a human being… The law does not penalize women seeking abortions or people providing them. But the dangerous part of the bill is in the defining of an ‘unborn child’ or a ‘child in utero’ at any stage of development and the rights afforded to that unborn child…
Sponsors claim this bill is designed to protect pregnant women, even though women are not mentioned in the language of the bill. This bill is solely designed to recognize the existence of a separate legal ‘person,’ with rights distinct from those of the pregnant woman, which would help to lay the foundation for eliminating abortion rights…
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act would adopt one religious belief about the beginning of life—that the fetus at all stages of development is a person—and make it the law for all.”Feb. 5, 2004
Bill Baird, founder of the nation’s first abortion referral center, wrote in his 1993 article “The Politics of God, Government, and Sex: a Thirty-One-Year Crusade” in the Saint Louis University Public Law Review:
“Restore personhood? This is the typical false propaganda that unthinking people accept. An embryo has never been a person by state law… No pregnant woman counts as two people in a census. No one is given a conception certificate rather than a birth certificate… [The] rhetoric of ‘pre-born children’ makes as much sense as living people are ‘pre-dead.’ Acorns aren’t oak trees; embryos aren’t people.”1993
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), in its Apr. 5, 2004 article “Fetal Personhood Bill Signed: Radical Attack on Religion,” wrote that:
“With regard to the claim that this law [UVVA] will protect women, the Religious Coalition agrees that lawmakers should take steps to prevent assaults on pregnant women and to punish severely those that occur – but UVVA will not do the job. If Congress wants to reduce such attacks, it should provide adequate funding for existing domestic violence programs and shelters that struggle with tight budgets, not enact fetal personhood. Instead the Senate rejected an amendment to this bill to enhance domestic violence programs, again showing the true aim of the bill…
Both the House and the Senate rejected a substitute bill that would have imposed the same criminal penalties as UVVA, but without declaring a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus to be a child, thus demonstrating that the Congressional majority was not aiming to address attacks on pregnant women but to recognize a separate legal ‘person’ and undermine reproductive health options.”Apr. 5, 2004
President George W. Bush made the following statement on Apr. 1, 2004 at the signing of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004:
“The Unborn Victims of Violence Act provides that, under federal law, any person who causes death or injury to a child in the womb shall be charged with a separate offense, in addition to any charges relating to the mother. As of today, the law of our nation will acknowledge the plain fact that crimes of violence against a pregnant woman often have two victims. And therefore, in those cases, there are two offenses to be punished. Under this law, those who direct violence toward a pregnant woman will answer for the full extent of the harm they have done, and for all the crimes they have committed…
Until today, the federal criminal code had been silent on the injury or death of a child in cases of violence against a pregnant woman. This omission in the law has led to clear injustices. The death of an innocent unborn child has too often been treated as a detail in one crime, but not a crime in itself.”Apr. 1, 2004
Chris Weinkopf, Editorial Page Editor at the Los Angeles Daily News, wrote in its Sep. 17, 1999 article “One Crime, Two Victims” in the FrontPage Mag website:
“Working from the premise that criminal punishment should be commensurate with the casualties inflicted… the Unborn Victims of Violence Act… would impose penalties on those who harm unborn children while committing federal crimes. It makes no mention of abortion, except to affirm its legality—explicitly exempting any harm done in the course of medical treatment, a voluntary termination, or an act by the woman herself (such as taking drugs).
For abortion-rights activists, however, those assurances aren’t enough…
The ACLU… ‘supports punishments that recognize the additional harm a woman suffers due to the loss of her pregnancy,’ but not the harm done to her unborn child. These quick answers, however, beg the same nagging questions. What, exactly, is the mother losing? Murder laws exist to protect human beings, not sentimental attachments…
In one sense, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU are right. While [UVVA] no more outlaws abortion than it prohibits duck-hunting, it does threaten their interests. By appealing to the public’s intrinsic understanding that a pregnant woman possesses something exquisitely precious, the bill erodes the widespread myth to the contrary—the myth on which the abortion-rights movement is founded.”Sep. 17, 1999
Jeffrey Rosen, JD, professor of law at George Washington University Law School, wrote in his 2003 opinion titled “A Viable Solution” in Legal Affairs:
“Supporters of abortion rights fear that courts might construe a federal fetal protection statute to include a congressional declaration that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. This declaration, they suggest, could undermine the central premise of Roe v. Wade…[Eleven] states have adopted homicide laws like the proposed federal statute that consider an unborn child a kind of ‘person’ from conception… In rejecting a challenge to the Minnesota Crimes Against Unborn Children Act, which is similar to the Peterson bill (UVVA), the Supreme Court of Minnesota emphasized that although the law treats fetuses as legal persons, it does not violate Roe v. Wade by treating them as constitutional persons… The Minnesota law explicitly recognized a woman’s right to choose abortion, and it protected that right by punishing assailants who deprived a woman of control over her own reproductive choices…
Along the same lines, the same states that declare fetuses to be persons from conception also emphasize that, before viability, a fetus’s interest in potential life is not weighty enough to override a woman’s right to choose an early-term abortion… [confirming that] the language of fetal ‘personhood’ is shorthand for complicated moral judgments that weigh the interests of the fetus differently in different circumstances.”Sep.-Oct. 2003
Nat Hentoff, columnist, wrote in his June 5, 2001 opinion titled “Pro-Abortion Extremists” for the Jewish World Review:
“For many years, a fervent priority of the American Civil Liberties Union has been to protect and expand abortion rights, thereby leaving defenseless the most vulnerable human beings the not yet born, each of them with his or her own distinct genetic identity.
Predictably, the ACLU has attacked what it scornfully describes as the ‘so-called Unborn Victims of Violence Act’… The ACLU might be surprised to learn that according to a standard medical text, ‘The Unborn Patient: The Art and Science of Fetal Development’ (W.B. Saunders, 2001) the fetus is an individual patient, and to be considered as such ‘as much a patient as any other patient.’
This is not a radical bill. If it is passed by the Senate and signed by the president, it will not erase Roe vs. Wade.”June 5, 2001