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Unborn Victims of Violence Act

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Signing ceremony at the White House, April 1, 2004.

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-212) is a United States law which amends Title 18 of the United States Code and the Uniform Code of Military Justice by defining a violent attack on a pregnant women as two distinct crimes: one against the woman herself, and the other against her unborn child.

The Act applies only to offenses over which the United States government has jurisdiction, namely crimes committed on Federal properties, against certain Federal officials and employees, and by members of the military. Because of principles of federalism embodied in the United States Constitution, Federal criminal law does not apply to crimes prosecuted by the individual states.

The legislation was both hailed and vilified by various legal observers who interpreted the measure as step toward granting legal personhood to human fetuses, even though the bill contained a provision excepting abortion. It is commonly known as Laci and Conner's Law after the mother and unborn child whose deaths were the major inspiration for the law (see Laci Peterson).

The Act was introduced into the House of Representatives as H.R. 1997 by Rep. Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania on May 7, 2003. It was ultimately co-sponsored by 136 other members of the House before it passed by a vote of 254 in favor to 163 against on February 26, 2004. After several amendments failed to be agreed to, it was passed in the Senate by a vote of 61-38 on March 25, 2004. It was signed into law by President Bush in the East Room of the White House on April 1, 2004.

At the signing ceremony, the President was joined on stage by families of pregnant women who had been victims of violence, including Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha. During his remarks at the ceremony, Bush said, "Any time an expectant mother is a victim of violence, two lives are in the balance, each deserving protection, and each deserving justice. If the crime is murder and the unborn child's life ends, justice demands a full accounting under the law." Senator John Kerry, his main opponent in the 2004 Presidential election, voted against the bill, saying, "I have serious concerns about this legislation because the law cannot simultaneously provide that a fetus is a human being and protect the right of the mother to choose to terminate her pregnancy."

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