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Floor Statement Introduction of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2003

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. President, the recent nationwide publicity surrounding the murder of 27 year-old Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, has renewed public concern about violence against the unborn -- and rightfully so.

Not long ago, the bodies of Laci -- who was eight months pregnant at the time she disappeared -- and Conner were discovered on a rocky shoreline of the San Francisco Bay. Baby Conner was found near his mother with his umbilical cord still attached.

Under California state law, intentionally killing a fetus is murder, and California prosecutors are seeking to bring separate murder charges in the deaths of Laci Peterson and her unborn son. But, I want make it very clear to my colleagues here in the Senate that the murder charge that California prosecutors will bring for the death of Laci's son would not be permitted if that crime were being prosecuted under current federal law. And that -- that is why we need to pass and get signed into law the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Let me explain.

In about half the states today (26), if you commit a crime of violence against a pregnant woman and her unborn baby dies, you can be punished for the violence against both the mother and the unborn child. But, tragically, if you commit a federal crime of violence against a pregnant woman and her baby dies, the death of the unborn child could essentially go unpunished. Examples of such federal crimes of violence would include kidnapping across state lines, drug-related drive-by shootings, or assaults on federal property.

This gap in the law leads to glaring injustices. It is time that we close this gap once and for all and let justice wrap its arms around our society's most vulnerable members.

That is why, Mr. President, it is imperative that we pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act -- one once and for all. Today, along with several of my distinguished colleagues -- Senators GRAHAM of South Carolina, HATCH, BROWNBACK, SANTORUM, KYL, VOINOVICH, MCCAIN, ENSIGN, ENZI, INHOFE, NICKLES, BUNNING, COLEMAN, CHAMBLISS, GRASSLEY, FITZGERALD, SHELBY, and TALENT -- we are re-introducing our legislation. This is the fourth time that I have introduced this bill -- in fact, it was the first piece of legislation that I introduced at the start of the 108th Congress. This bill is strongly supported by President Bush, and a companion measure passed the House of Representatives in two previous Congresses. I intend to take procedural steps that would make this bill eligible to be taken up directly by the Senate, without further Committee action.

I thank my colleagues for their support of this effort, and would like to recognize especially Senator GRAHAM, who championed this issue on the House side before joining us in the Senate. He has worked tirelessly to see to it that the most vulnerable are protected. I also would like to thank our lead House sponsors -- Congresswoman Melissa Hart from Pennsylvania and my friend and colleague from Ohio, Congressman Steve Chabot. They, too, are working tirelessly to get this bill passed by the other Chamber and signed into law.

Mr. President, our bill would establish new criminal penalties for anyone injuring or killing a fetus while committing certain federal offenses. Specifically, this bill would make any murder or injury of an unborn child during the commission of certain existing federal crimes a separate crime under federal law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Twenty-six (26) states already have criminalized the killing or injuring of unborn victims during a crime.

We live in a violent world, Mr. President. And sadly, sometimes -- perhaps more often than we realize -- even unborn babies are the targets, intended or otherwise, of violent acts. We have to protect these innocent victims. I'd like to share some disturbing examples with my colleagues of situations where the deaths of unborn children would have gone unpunished but for the existence of state criminal laws. If these same crimes would have occurred in the 24 states today that don't have such state laws, justice would not have been served, because there is simply no federal law in place to try these crimes.

First, let me talk about the example of Airman Gregory Robbins. In 1996, Airman Robbins and his family were stationed in my home state of Ohio at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. At that time, Mrs. Robbins was more than eight months pregnant with a daughter they named Jasmine. On September 12, 1996, in a fit of rage, Airman Robbins wrapped his fist in a T-shirt and savagely beat his wife by striking her repeatedly about the head and abdomen. Fortunately, Mrs. Robbins survived the violent assault. Tragically, however, her uterus ruptured during the attack, expelling the baby into her abdominal cavity, causing Jasmine's death.

Air Force prosecutors sought to prosecute Airman Robbins for Jasmine's death, but neither the Uniform Code of Military Justice nor the federal code makes criminal such an act that results in the death or injury of an unborn child. The only available federal offense was for the assault on the mother. This was a case in which the only available federal penalty did not fit the crime. So prosecutors bootstrapped the Ohio unborn victims law to convict Airman Robbins of Jasmine's death. Fortunately, upon appeal, the court upheld the lower court's ruling.

Mr. President, if it hadn't been for the Ohio law that was already in place, there would have been no opportunity to prosecute and punish Airman Robbins for the assault against Baby Jasmine. That's why we need a federal remedy to avoid having to bootstrap state laws to provide recourse when a violent act occurs during the commission of a federal crime. A federal remedy will ensure that crimes within federal jurisdiction against unborn victims are punished.

Let me give you another example. In August 1999, Shiwona Pace of Little Rock, Arkansas, was days away from giving birth. She was thrilled about her pregnancy. Her boyfriend, Eric Bullock, however, did not share her joy and enthusiasm. In fact, Eric wanted the baby to die. So, he hired three thugs to beat his girlfriend so badly that she lost the unborn baby. According to Shiwona, who testified at a Senate Judiciary hearing we held in Washington on February 23, 2000:

"I begged and pleaded for the life of my unborn child, but they showed me no mercy. In fact, one of them told me, 'Your baby is dying tonight.' I was choked, hit in the face with a gun, slapped, punched, and kicked repeatedly in the stomach. One of them even put a gun in my mouth and threatened to shoot."

In this particular case, just a few short weeks before this vicious attack, Arkansas passed its "Fetal Protection Act." Under the state law, Erik Bullock was convicted on February 9, 2001, of capital murder against Shiwona's unborn child and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was also convicted of first-degree battery for harm against Shiwona.

In yet another example -- this one in Columbus-- 16 year-old Sean Steele was found guilty of two counts of murder for the death of his girlfriend Barbara "Bobbie" Watkins, age 15, and her 22-week-old, unborn child. He was convicted under Ohio's unborn victims law, which represented the first murder conviction in Franklin County, Ohio, in which a victim was a fetus.

Ultimately, Mr. President, the fact is that it is just plain wrong that our federal government does absolutely nothing to criminalize violent acts against unborn children. We cannot allow criminals to get away with murder. We must close this loophole.

As a civilized society, we must take a stand against violent crimes against children -- especially those waiting to be born. We must close this loophole.

Mr. President, we purposely drafted this legislation very narrowly. Because of that, our bill would not permit the prosecution for any abortion to which a woman consented. It would not permit the prosecution of a woman for any action (legal or illegal) in regard to her unborn child. Our legislation would not permit the prosecution for harm caused to the mother or unborn child in the course of medical treatment. And finally, our bill would not allow for the imposition of the death penalty under this Act.

Mr. President, this is about making sure justice is done when a pregnant woman is attacked. And ultimately, I think that everyone in this Chamber would agree that people who violently attack unborn babies should be punished. When acts of violence against unborn victims fall within federal jurisdiction, we must have a penalty. We have an obligation to our unborn children who cannot speak for themselves. I think Shiwona Pace said it best she testified at our hearing: "The loss of any potential life should never be in vain."

I strongly urge my colleagues to join in support of this important legislation.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill and my statement be printed in the Record.

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