A New President — a New Path for Fetal Murder Bill?

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Rep. Lindsey Graham

In the course of an armed robbery, a woman is killed. Her family asks for an autopsy, which reveals the victim was pregnant when she died. Will her killer be charged with one or two counts of murder?

If both houses of Congress pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, the killer would be responsible for not only the womanís death but also that of her unborn child. Depending on who's describing it, the bill will either ensure adequate prosecution of anyone who takes two lives by killing a pregnant woman or open the doors to further restriction of abortion rights. The UVVA, sponsored by South Carolina Republican Representative Lindsey Graham, easily passed a House vote Thursday — but supporters expect an uphill battle in the Senate, where Ohio Republican Mike DeWine recently introduced a duplicate bill.

Graham, an ardent supporter of anti-abortion legislation, sponsored an identical bill in 1999 requiring law enforcement officials to treat a fetus as a full-fledged person. The 1999 version also passed easily in the House but ran out of time in the Senate. At the time, President Clinton, siding with pro-choice activists, vowed to veto the bill. Today, President Bush has promised to sign it.

Graham maintains that existing protections would protect abortion providers and women seeking abortions from prosecution. Pro-choice activists donít find his assurances convincing and promise to mount a full-fledged attack on the bill. They see this legislation as a critical test of a new administration, a new House and a new Senate, and that passage would provide a stark indication that abortion rights are in serious trouble.

California Democrat Zoe Lofgren characterizes Grahamís bill as an attempt "to alter the Constitution through statute." Thursday, Lofgren, who also sponsored an unsuccessful alternative to Grahamís 1999 bill, presented a rider that would have enhanced penalties for anyone who attacks a pregnant woman (whether the pregnancy was known to the attacker or not), but would have classified such an act as a single-victim crime. Voted down in 1999, Lofgrenís alternative was defeated Thursday as well.