The Unborn Victims of Violence Act

by Alana Wingfoot

HR 503, The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, just passed the U.S. House of Representatives. If it passes the Senate in the same form, it will become a crime to harm an unborn child in utero, at any stage from fertilized egg onwards.

Let's break this down a bit. (Text taken from the version up on Thomas.)

"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."

So if someone assaults an eight-months-pregnant woman, and she loses the baby, the assaultor is guilty both of the assault on the woman and of the death of the baby. Okay, fine. But....

'(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.

So it's just as much a crime to harm an unborn baby as to harm its mother. I actually don't have a problem with this when we're talking about a child who could live if it were born at that time. But we're not at the kicker yet.

'(B) An offense under this section does not require proof that--

Heh. So there's now further incentive for people not to attack young women, because for all you know, they might be pregnant, and you'll get charged for two crimes and not one? Doubt this'll dissuade anyone from committing a violent act against a woman. The comparison with concealled carry laws doesn't quite work.

'(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 as provided under sections 1111, 1112, and 1113 of this title for intentionally killing or attempting to kill a human being."

So, they're saying that an unborn child should be legally treated as a human being....

"'(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.'." any stage of development? So if I test pregnant in a home kit right after I miss a period, and then I get into a car crash, it's the other driver's fault, and I have a miscarriage the next day, the driver can be tried for vehicular manslaughter? when my child wasn't even developed enough to have all its organs yet?

I have a real problem with this.

If the law applied only to viable babies, I'd feel differently about it. A fetus at seven months SHOULD have more rights than an embryo at seven days; if it has to be delivered in an emergency, it can live independently. And by viability, the pregnancy has usually been clearly established -- will a federal court accept my word on it that I'd taken a home pregnancy test (which I've since tossed) and that I really was pregnant before that car wreck or that assault? Or do I have to save my menstrual blood and have a lab find that embryo? My midwife never administered a formal pregnancy test on me; she just took my word that the appropriate colored lines were there on the thing. Would her statement that she believed me pregnant hold up in court?

And at that early a stage, can you prove that the assault led to the miscarriage? Okay, if the woman's stabbed in the uterus, then that's pretty clear. But if she's in a car wreck, well, how do you know that she wasn't about to miscarry anyway? Should the driver be prosecuted for something that they might very well NOT have caused?

In later pregnancy, it's clearer. Kid was kicking and heartrate was fine at last week's doctor's visit; mom gets mugged on the way home from work; emergency room nurse finds that there's no longer a fetal heartbeat. Pretty reasonable to assume that the attack lead to the death. (And then again, if a woman at term goes into labor after an assault, and delivers a stillborn child, how can you prove that the assault was the direct cause of the child's death and not, say, some other problem during the delivery?)

Anyway. Then they add as an afterthought:

" Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the prosecution--

Gee, thanks, I really appreciate knowing that neither my doctor nor I will be prosecuted if I have an ectopic pregnancy and have to have an abortion. I'm so thrilled that if I develop a life-threatening condition and have to take a drug that's likely to harm my child, I can still choose to save my own life. I'm terribly grateful to know that if I get into a car wreck that's my fault and have a miscarriage, I won't go to jail for my baby's death.

And meanwhile, we have a potential law that says a kid in utero from zygote on is a human being. With the assumption, I suppose, that a later session of Congress will say, "Hey, unborn fetuses are human beings, and yet it's legal to kill them in certain circumstances! We can't have that! Let's ban abortion!" (Of course, adult human beings are undoubtedly human beings, and yet it's legal to kill them under certain circumstances -- if they're threatening your life or person, if you're a soldier and they're on the other side in a war [heck, in that case, it's okay to kill children and unborn babies, it seems], if they're on death row and you're the state executioner. Apparently only unborn babies have so strong a right to life that we should enforce it no matter the consequences to their mothers and to society.)

This just sets off my warning bells in a big way.

Copyright © 2001 by Alana Wingfoot

02/09/07 at 18:15