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Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2003

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Location: Washington, DC


Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2003 -- (House of Representatives - February 26, 2004)

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Speaker, pursuant to House Resolution 529, I call up the bill (H.R. 1997) to amend title 18, United States Code, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice to protect unborn children from assault and murder, and for other purposes, and ask for its immediate consideration in the House.

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Mr. CHABOT. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me the time, and I thank the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Sensenbrenner) for his leadership on this issue. I also want to commend and thank the gentlewoman from Pennsylvania (Ms. Hart), the principal sponsor of this bill, for her leadership.

Sadly, recent studies in Maryland, North Carolina and New York City and Illinois indicate that homicide is the leading cause of death of pregnant women in those parts of the country. Those homicides are often inspired by the desire to kill a woman's unborn child. Yet due to gaps in the Federal criminal law, an unborn child can be killed or injured during the commission of a violent Federal crime without any legal consequences.

These gaps are appalling to the American people. Recent polls have shown that upwards of 80 percent of registered voters, including 69 percent of voters who consider themselves to be prochoice, believe that prosecutors should be able to separately charge the violent attacker of a pregnant woman that kills her unborn child. Yet today, for example, if a man stalks his pregnant wife across State lines and attacks her, injuring her but killing the unborn child, that man could not be prosecuted under Federal law for the loss of the baby's life.

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act fills this glaring gap in Federal law with a simple expression of basic understanding, namely, that the loss of an unborn child to an act of violence deserves separate recognition under Federal law. This bill provides that if an unborn child is injured or killed during the commission of crimes of violence already defined under Federal law, prosecutors can bring two charges, one on behalf of the mother, the other on behalf of the unborn victim.

H.R. 1997 recognizes that the loss of an unborn child at any stage of development is a unique and separate loss both to society and to the mother who carried and loved that child. This bill, for the first time under Federal law, treats an unborn victim of violence as something more than a torn spleen or a bruised appendix or other physical injuries incurred during the course of a violent attack that might warrant enhanced penalties but not separate charges under Federal law now. H.R. 1997 treats such unborn victims with the respect and dignity under the law that their loving mothers and the American people rightfully demand for them.

We must all ask ourselves, is an injury to an unborn child the same thing as a broken bone? If the answer is no, as I think we all know that it is, then the only appropriate response is to treat harm to an unborn victim as a distinct and separate offense under Federal law.

This legislation has been called merely symbolic by its opponents, but I wonder how many women in America would view the loss of their unborn child through violent means as merely symbolic. Certainly not Tracy Marciniak, whose unborn child was murdered by her husband. She told the Subcommittee on the Constitution, referring to the substitute amendment which we will be dealing with later, "Please don't tell me that my son was not a real murder victim," and, "Please remember Zachariah's name and face" when you vote on a substitute amendment that refuses to allow a separate charge for the killing of a wanted, unborn child.

Shiwona Pace, whose unborn child Heaven Sashay was brutally murdered by three hired hitmen, has also testified that, "It seems to me that any Congressman who votes for the 'one-victim' amendment," in other words, the substitute, "is really saying that nobody died that night. And that is a lie."

Indeed, because unborn victims are distinct victims, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act is also referred to as Laci and Conner's Law, for Laci and Conner Peterson, two recent victims of terrible violence.

Opponents of the legislation before us today claim it will open the door to all manner of terrible imagined future legislation, but the only door this legislation opens is the door to a distinct room in the edifice of the Federal Code in which unborn victims of violence can be granted the distinct respect they are owed. Just as expecting mothers reserve space in their home for wanted and loved unborn children, we in Congress should reserve for unborn victims of violence a distinct place under the protective shield of criminal law by providing for a separate offense when they are violently killed or injured. The American people consider the murder of an unborn child distinctly offensive, and they demand that the murder of an unborn child be a distinct offense under Federal law, and I urge its passage.

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AMENDMENT IN THE NATURE OF A SUBSTITUTE OFFERED BY MS. LOFGREN

Ms. LOFGREN. Mr. Speaker, I offer an amendment in the nature of a substitute.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Clerk will designate the amendment in the nature of a substitute.

The text of the amendment in the nature of a substitute is as follows:

Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute offered by Ms. Lofgren:

Strike all after the enacting clause and insert the following:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the "Motherhood Protection Act of 2004".

SEC. 2. CRIMES AGAINST A WOMAN THAT AFFECT THE NORMAL COURSE OF HER PREGNANCY.

(a) Whoever engages in any violent or assaultive conduct against a pregnant woman resulting in the conviction of the person so engaging for a violation of any of the provisions of law set forth in subsection (c), and thereby causes an interruption to the normal course of the pregnancy resulting in prenatal injury (including termination of the pregnancy), shall, in addition to any penalty imposed for the violation, be punished as provided in subsection (b).

(b) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a) is-

(1) if the relevant provision of law set forth in subsection © is set forth in paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of that subsection, a fine under title 18, United States Code, or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both, but if the interruption terminates the pregnancy, a fine under title 18, United States Code, or imprisonment for any term of years or for life, or both; and

(2) if the relevant provision of law is set forth in subsection ©(4), the punishment shall be such punishment (other than the death penalty) as the court martial may direct.

© The provisions of law referred to in subsection (a) are the following:

(1) Sections 36, 37, 43, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 229, 242, 245, 247, 248, 351, 831, 844(d), (f), (h)(1), and (i), 924(j), 930, 1111, 1112, 1114, 1116, 1118, 1119, 1120, 1121, 1153(a), 1201(a), 1203(a), 1365(a), 1501, 1503, 1505, 1512, 1513, 1751, 1864, 1951, 1952(a)(1)(B), (a)(2)(B), and (a)(3)(B), 1958, 1959, 1992, 2113, 2114, 2116, 2118, 2119, 2191, 2231, 2241(a), 2245, 2261, 2261A, 2280, 2281, 2332, 2332a, 2332b, 2340A, and 2441 of title 18, United States Code.

(2) Section 408(e) of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (21 U.S.C. 848).

(3) Section 202 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2283).

(4) Sections 918, 919(a), 919(b)(2), 920(a), 922, 924, 926, and 928 of title 10, United States Code (articles 118, 119(a), 119(b)(2), 120(a), 122, 124, 126, and 128).

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to House Resolution 529, the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lofgren) and the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Sensenbrenner) each will control 30 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lofgren).

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Mr. CHABOT. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time. This substitute amendment should be soundly defeated. The substitute amendment appears to operate as a mere sentence enhancement authorizing punishment in addition to any penalty imposed for the predicate offense. That is most unfortunate. No sentencing enhancement can adequately express society's disapproval for the distinct loss that occurs when a mother's unborn child is harmed or killed by a violent criminal. A loss that is both unique and uniquely offensive to both a loving expectant mother and to the vast majority of Americans warrants a unique and separate offense under the criminal law. H.R. 1997 provides for a separate offense. The substitute does not.

Indeed, the witnesses we heard from in committee supporting H.R. 1997, this bill, have told us that they are not Republicans or Democrats, they are not lawyers, they are people who have lost unborn children to violence, and they want those children treated appropriately under the law. That is precisely what H.R. 1997 does. The substitute does not.

Sharon Rocha, the mother of Laci Peterson and the grandmother of unborn victim, Conner Peterson, has written that "the Lofgren proposal would enshrine in law the offensive concept that such crimes have only a single victim, the pregnant woman."

Shiwona Pace, whose unborn child, Heaven, was brutally murdered by three hired hitmen, has said, "It seems to me that any Congressman who votes for the one victim amendment is really saying that nobody died that night. And that is a lie."

Those who focus this debate on penalties and abstract terms such as harm to a pregnancy rather than to an unborn child misunderstand the purposes of the criminal law. The criminal law does not exist only to punish criminals; it exists to lend dignity to victims, including unborn victims. It is an expression not only of society's disapproval of certain conduct, but of its recognition of the victims of such conduct and the manner in which such victims should be recognized. Creating a separate offense for harm to an unborn child forces all of us, including potential criminals, to consider the act of harming an unborn child as an independent evil.

A Newsweek poll found that only 9 percent of those surveyed, less than one in 10 Americans, oppose a separate offense for killing an unborn child. Those 9 percent of Americans should be heard, of course; and they have been heard through this substitute amendment. But they must not win, as the law exists in large part to reflect America's overwhelmingly shared values, and those shared values support separate charges for the killing and injuring of wanted, unborn children.

I ask, looking at this picture, this is Tracy Marciniak that we have talked about. This is her unborn child here, Zachariah. Tracy was attacked by her husband when she was 8 months pregnant with this child. Tracy survived her physical injuries. The child died that night. I ask you, this is the funeral of this child. There is Tracy holding her child. How many victims do we see in this photograph? I think it is clear, there are two victims in that photograph. This legislation that we are addressing here today recognizes two victims. The substitute amendment does not.

The terminology in the substitute amendment is hopelessly confusing; and if adopted, it will almost certainly jeopardize any prosecution involving the injuring or killing of an unborn child during the commission of a violent crime. The substitute amendment provides an enhanced penalty for "interruption to the normal course of the pregnancy resulting in prenatal injury, including termination of the pregnancy." The amendment then authorizes greater punishment for an interruption that terminates the pregnancy than it does for a mere interruption of a pregnancy. What exactly is

the difference between an interruption of a pregnancy and an interruption that terminates the pregnancy? The substitute does not say. Does any interruption of a pregnancy not necessarily result in a termination of the pregnancy? Or have the supporters of this amendment somehow succeeded in mastering the science of suspended animation? By defining an interruption to the normal course of the pregnancy, the substitute is either science fiction or simply impossible for Federal prosecutors to decipher and apply.

The substitute amendment is a moral failure in that it refuses to recognize that unborn children can be victims of violence. It is a drafting failure in that its ambiguous terminology would leave prosecutors at a loss as to how to administer it. And it is a constitutional failure in that it contains no exceptions for abortion-related conduct. The substitute should be soundly defeated.

In my view, it all comes down and this entire debate is best summed up in a single photograph. Whether or not there are two victims in this photograph or only one is the issue that is at hand. The majority in this House, as we have had it here twice before and it has passed with pretty overwhelming numbers, the majority of us see the clear indication in this picture that there are two victims. The substitute amendment, and it is craftily worded, but ambiguous enough that prosecutors have indicated that successfully prosecuting an offense under the substitute is virtually impossible; but the people that support that particular substitute amendment are indicating in essence that there is only one victim here. I think common sense should prevail. There are two victims.

I would strongly urge my colleagues to defeat the substitute amendment and pass the underlying bill.

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