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Public Statements

Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2003

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


UNBORN VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE ACT OF 2003 -- (House of Representatives - February 26, 2004)

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Mr. NADLER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the so-called Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Here we are again to consider a bill which has now, for three Congresses, unnecessarily mired what should be a laudable and uncontroversial effort to punish truly heinous crimes in the emotionally charged and legally suspect back allies of the abortion debate. This is regrettable, Mr. Speaker, because real people are suffering real harm, while this House has played abortion politics instead of acting to punish truly barbaric crimes.

The issue today is straightforward: Is it or is it not necessary to enact a bill making a statement endorsing the controversial and legally revolutionary notion that a fetus is a legal person from the moment of conception in order to punish these criminals with the severity that they justly deserve?

That is the heart of the issue. The proponents of this bill are taking what should be a straightforward issue and unnecessarily turning it into a controversial one.

Why does this matter? Quite simply, because if the law recognizes that a fetus is a legal person from the moment of conception, as this bill would do, when it is a zygote, a blastocyst, an embryo, a simple collection of undifferentiated cells, then the law must recognize and protect the rights of that person on a legal basis with the rights of the adult pregnant woman. If our laws recognize that, then there can be no right to choose, because, logically, terminating a pregnancy even in its earliest stages would be killing a fully legal person.

So when the proponents tell you that this is not about the right to choose, this is not about the right to have an abortion, remember that very simple and clear fact. And, remember that we have an alternative that is just as tough on these criminals: the Lofgren substitute. We do not have to choose between an assault on Roe v. Wade and permitting these heinous criminals to walk free.

That is a false choice, but I do not ask my colleagues to believe me. Take the proponents at their word.
Senator ORRIN HATCH, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a sponsor of this bill in the other body, had this to say, "They say it undermines abortion rights. It does, but that's irrelevant." CNN, May 7 last year.
January 19 last year, Samuel B. Casey, executive director of the Christian Legal Society, told the Los Angeles Times, "In as many areas as we can, we want to put on the books that the embryo is a person. That sets the stage for a jurist," a judge, "to acknowledge that human beings at any stage of development deserve protection, even protection that would trump a woman's interest in terminating a pregnancy."

May 19 last year, Dr. Joe Cook, vice president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "We have to approach this in a way that's doable, a step at a time. This bill is aimed at establishing that a fetus in utero is a human being and has human rights."
So please do not insult our intelligence by saying this bill is not about abortion rights.

The proper question is not whether we will recognize a separate or a new crime, but how we will do so. The Lofgren substitute recognizes a special kind of evil embodied in these crimes, but would recognize the assault on the fetus as a second crime against the pregnant woman, a second, separate crime, but against the pregnant woman, not against the fetus. The distinguished chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution criticized that point of view as the "ideology of those who are unwilling to recognize the unborn child in the law." Precisely. That is the threat to Roe, and despite the disclaimers in the bill and the disclaimers of the distinguished chairman a few minutes ago, that is what we are talking about today.

If a fetus is recognized as a legal person, then this bill would open the door to barring abortions, to prosecuting women or to restraining them physically for the sake of the fetus. Some courts and State governments have already experimented with this approach. The last time we had occasion to consider this bill, the Supreme Court had just struck down a practice in the then-sponsor's home State of South Carolina in which a hospital would give the result of pregnant women's blood tests to local law enforcement for the purpose of initiating legal action against those women who might take action that might in some way endanger the fetus. Once we recognize even a zygote, two cells, as having the same legal status as the pregnant woman, it would logically follow that her liberty could be restricted to protect its interests. The whole purpose of Roe is to say that her liberty interests trump the interests of the fetus. This bill says exactly the opposite.

For those of us who are prochoice, the right to choose extends not just to a woman's right to have an abortion if she wants, but also to her right to carry a pregnancy to term if she wants and to deliver a healthy baby in safety. That is why we supported the Violence Against Women Act. That is why we support programs to provide proper prenatal care and nutrition to all women. That is why we support proper health and nutrition services after a birth. That is why we support other initiatives like the Family and Medical Leave Act. We do not believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth. We have an obligation to these children and to their parents both prenatally and postnatally.
Let there be no mistake, using physical violence against a woman to prevent her from having a child that she wants is just as much an assault on the right to choose as is the use of violence against women who wish to exercise their constitutional right to choose to end their pregnancy. A woman, and only a woman, has the right to decide when and whether to bring a child into the world; not an abusive partner, not a fanatic, not even Congress.

If we are serious about this problem, and the problem of domestic violence against pregnant women, we have effective remedies at our disposal. If we want to play abortion politics, we have an appropriate vehicle, this bill, before us for that purpose.

Violence against a pregnant woman deserves strong preventive measures and stiff punishment. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, homicides during pregnancy, and in the year following birth, are the leading pregnancy-related death among women in the United States. Among nonpregnant women, it is the fifth leading cause of death.

Mr. Speaker, it is a disgrace that while these preventable crimes continue to occur, Congress fiddles with largely symbolic legislation designed to interfere with the right to choose rather than taking affirmative steps to deal with this real problem. Why does this Republican-controlled Congress and White House continually refuse to fund fully and adequately the Violence Against Women Act? It appears that many of the Members who have signed on to this bill are the same ones who voted to divert funds from protecting women from violence to protecting stock dividends from
taxation.

We owe it to these victims to enact strong penalties, ones which are not constitutionally suspect, to end these heinous crimes. I urge that we adopt the Lofgren substitute to make an assault that harms a fetus a second crime with just as severe or more severe penalties as with this bill, but a second crime against the women so as to not to get into the question of rights of the person to full personhood, which is, of course, the purpose of this bill, but would undermine Roe v. Wade, despite the disingenuous disclaimer of some of the other people on the other side. Let us not crowd the issue of fighting domestic violence, of fighting violence against women and pregnant women, by plunging a legitimate law enforcement effort into the murky waters of the abortion debate.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. NADLER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, the distinguished chairman said a moment ago that in the Innocent Child Protection Act of 2000 we made settled law the personhood of the fetus. It is not correct. In the Innocent Child Protection Act of 2000, we simply said that a pregnant woman could not be executed, and we defined a pregnant woman as someone who had a child in utero, and then defined, as the chairman said, the words "child in utero."

It is not what we are talking about here. For the purpose of saying you cannot execute a pregnant woman, we have defined what a pregnant woman means. That is all that bill did.

This bill seeks to establish a fetus as a separate legal person by giving it separate legal rights in order transparently to make it a separate legal person within the meaning of the 14th amendment that says no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. That is exactly the opposite of what the Supreme Court said when it said we have never held a fetus to be a person in the full meaning of the term. This bill is an attempt to whittle away at that term.

The distinguished chairman of the subcommittee says we have to acknowledge the particularly heinous nature of the crime, and indeed, we do. The Lofgren substitute acknowledges the assault on the fetus as a separate crime to be separately punished, to be additionally punished, but a separate crime against the woman because her interest in carrying that pregnancy to term and bearing a healthy baby is assaulted.

It does not recognize it as a separate crime against a separate person, which is the object of this bill and what we are debating, and which is why this bill, despite the disclaimers of the proponents, is a direct assault on Roe v. Wade, a direct assault on abortion, and if all they are interested in is to make a separate crime when you assault a fetus, when you harm a fetus, then the Lofgren substitute is perfectly adequate for that. But their aim is to damage the right to choose, and that is the real purpose of this bill.

Mr. Speaker, I yield 5 minutes to the gentlewoman from New York (Mrs. Lowey).

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Mr. NADLER. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentlewoman from Illinois (Ms. Schakowsky).

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