September 24, 1999
I write to urge your support for H.R. 2436, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
H.R. 2436 protects unborn children whose mothers are physically assaulted, beaten, maimed, or murdered in violation of specified provisions of the federal criminal code. Surprisingly, when a pregnant woman is herself the victim of a federal crime, any resulting injury to her unborn child -- harm to which the woman obviously has not consented -- goes unpunished. The vast majority of states, in contrast to the federal government, recognize and redress prenatal injury or death resulting from violence inflicted upon a pregnant woman. See Paul B. Linton, "Planned Parenthood v. Casey: The Flight From Reason in the Supreme Court," 13 St. Louis U. Law Rev. 15-137 (1993), especially 120-137 (listing 38 states that recognize the humanity and legal status of unborn children outside the abortion context).
Witnesses before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution recounted in moving testimony how unborn children have been injured or killed during the commission of a federal crime against the mother. Yet such injuries or death have gone unpunished. This makes no moral or legal sense.
Opponents of the bill such as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League say that H.R 2436 is "antithetical to the findings" of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). But H.R. 2436 does not affect legal abortion. In defining a woman's "right" to make abortion decisions, the Court said it was in no position to resolve "the difficult question of when life begins." 410 U.S. at 159. Later the Court upheld a Missouri law declaring that human life begins at conception, noting that such a law is perfectly constitutional as long it is not used to restrict abortion. Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490, 506-07 (1989). Clearly even under current Supreme Court jurisprudence, Congress as well as the States may recognize the humanity of unborn children in contexts other than abortion.
It is disappointing that some claim this bill should nonetheless be defeated to preserve a "right" to abortion. Even many abortion proponents have conceded that abortion takes a human life, while demanding that the practice be preserved to protect a woman's "right to choose." This bill, however, offers an opportunity to protect the unborn child in a way that clearly serves the freedom and well-being of his or her mother, by protecting both parties from violent assault and murder. To oppose such much-needed legislation, simply because it acknowledges a truth about unborn life that almost everyone already knows anyway, would be a terrible injustice.
It is even more disheartening that H.R. 2436 has been attacked by an outright ad hominem argument: Supporters of the bill also oppose abortion, goes the argument, so this bill must be a ploy for banning abortion. But the Catholic bishops' conference does not support legal recognition of unborn human life because we oppose abortion --rather, we oppose abortion and other lethal practices and disagree with Roe because we believe that everyone's right to life must be recognized, including the unborn. But whatever one's view of Roe, the fact that the Supreme Court may have barred legal protection in one specific context does not exempt any of us from our moral obligation and civic duty to recognize and protect life wherever possible.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act will enable the federal government to recognize that when a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed within its jurisdiction, and her unborn child is harmed or killed as a result, the crime has two victims --the woman and her child. This is a common-sense and compassionate approach, consistent with government's responsibility to protect human life, born as well as unborn.
Please consider this issue on its merits and vote for H.R. 2436 when it comes before the House of Representatives.