The House of Representatives on Thursday passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes harming or killing a zygote, embryo or fetus while attacking a pregnant woman during the commission of a federal crime, a separate and punishable crime.
The bill, passed by a 254-163 vote, also gives personhood and rights to a zygote, embryo or fetus at any stage of development, making this bill widely viewed as an anti-abortion rights vote.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) said it would be the first time that a federal law recognizes a fetus as having the same rights as the born. The bill “is not about shielding pregnant women,” she told the Associated Press. “It is and has always been about undermining freedom of choice.”
Leading the pro-choice opposition to the bill, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) introduced an alternative measure (rejected 229-186) that proposed increased penalties for attacks on pregnant women in which the fetus is injured or killed without conferring new rights of fetuses, according to the Washington Post.
Sponsored by Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA), the Unborn Victims of Violence Act passed by a similar margin twice before in the House but died both times in the Senate because President Clinton promised a veto. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) pledged to bring the bill to the Senate floor soon, but is uncertain whether the Senate has the votes to pass it, according to the Post. President Bush has vowed to sign the Act if passed in the Senate.