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Committee Approves Fetal Protection Bill

A bill (H.R. 503) dealing with fetal protection was approved, 15-9, by the House Judiciary Committee on March 28. Sponsored by Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the bill would create a separate offense if an individual kills or injures an “unborn child” while committing a federal crime against a pregnant woman. Abortion providers and women who consent to have an abortion would be exempt from prosecution.

Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and John Conyers (D-MI) offered a substitute amendment that would have increased the penalties for individuals convicted of assaulting a pregnant woman and thereby causing “an interruption to the normal course of the pregnancy resulting in prenatal injury (including termination of the pregnancy).” The amendment was defeated, 13-20.

Arguing that the substitute responds to the concerns of many, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) stated that the underlying bill was an attempt to ignore a woman’s constitutional right to choose. “We dangerously undermine the rights of women and the rights of Americans,” she stated.

Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA) opposed the amendment, saying, “This is not an issue of abortion. It’s an issue of extreme domestic violence, violence against families.”

Reps. Conyers and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) offered an amendment that would have prevented H.R. 503 from taking effect in fiscal years during which the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) does not receive full funding. The amendment was defeated, 11-19.

Countering arguments against the amendment, Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) stated, “Let’s not suggest that the underlying bill will in any way deter violence against women because it won’t.”

Stating that he “clearly supported VAWA,” Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) said, “There is no reason to tie funding for VAWA to this legislation.” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) offered an amendment that would have required the United States Sentencing Commission to review and amend sentencing guidelines with respect to crimes causing bodily injury or death to a pregnant woman. Under the amendment, the commission is instructed to consider whether “the normal development of the fetus is interrupted or terminated other than by live birth, and whether it was reasonably foreseeable that interruption or termination of a pregnancy would result” from the offense. Additionally, the sentencing enhancements would not have applied to conduct relating to an abortion, the provision of medical treatment of the pregnant woman or the fetus, or conduct of the pregnant woman. The amendment was defeated by voice vote.

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