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House passes bill to make harming fetus a crime

September 30, 1999
Web posted at: 6:07 p.m. EDT (2207 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With members of the Christian Coalition blanketing Capitol Hill on Thursday, the House passed a bill that would make it a federal offense to harm a fetus during the commission of a federal crime.

The measure passed the House by a 254-172 margin -- short of the numbers needed to override a veto, which the White House said it will issue if the measure reaches President Bill Clinton's desk.

"It's not the same thing as a simple assault. Clearly, it's more serious and more jarring," said Rep. Sue Myrick (R-North Carolina) and a bill supporter. But opponents called the bill a back-door attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.

"This bill would create the first federal law that would recognize a fertilized egg as a victim of a crime," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York) and an opponent of the bill.

The measure, called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, specifically exempts abortion and is similar to laws on the books in 24 states. Nonetheless, "It is a pure sham," said Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights Action League. "It is sponsored and promoted by those who want to take away a woman's right to choose."

But a supporter of the measure, Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) insists the bill "doesn't erode a woman's right to choose."

Graham says, "It puts limits on criminals' rights to destroy unborn children without the permission of the woman."

At least 24 states already provide some degree of fetal protection with regard to state crimes.

In Arkansas, for example, the law was used to prosecute a man accused of hiring three men to beat up his pregnant girlfriend. The fetus died, and the men were charged with capital murder. Both supporters and opponents of the bill referred repeatedly to the Arkansas case Thursday.

But abortion rights supporters say the bill would give an unborn child, even at the earliest stages of pregnancy, legal rights. And that, they believe, could be used to undermine Roe vs. Wade.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve and Bob Franken contributed to this story.


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Thursday, September 30, 1999






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