Voting 252-172, lawmakers passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes a fetus six weeks or older as a person. The vote split largely along partisan lines with 198 Republicans supporting the measure along with 53 Democrats and one independent.
Supporters of the measure said a person who assaults a pregnant woman and harms the fetus while committing a federal crime should be tried separately for damage done to the unborn.
An attacker would not need to know a woman was pregnant to be prosecuted under the law. The punishment would be the same as that for similar acts against a person. However, the death penalty would not apply.
The bill includes a provision that abortions performed with a mother's consent would not be considered a criminal act. But critics of the measure said it defines for the first time a fetus as an individual, opening the door for future legislation that could undermine abortion rights.
The House passed the bill last year but it stalled in the Senate under a veto threat from President Clinton. President Bush issued a statement after the vote in support of the bill but it was unclear whether the measure has support to pass in the equally divided Senate.
Lawmakers defeated a Democrat-written amendment that contained harsh penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman but would have removed the language referring to the fetus as an individual.
Supporters of the alternative said the Supreme Court already has declared that a fetus is not recognized as an individual, and a law saying otherwise would be deemed unconstitutional.
However, others pointed out 24 states already have laws on the books making it a crime to destroy a fetus.
The amendment, by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., was defeated 229-196.(c) 2001 Las Vegas Review Journal
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