September 20, 1999
Punishing accidents, ignoring murder
Violence to Unborn Children Act gives abortionists' a license to kill
Leave it to a zealous Congress to sweep away time-honored criminal law in an attempt to make a political constituency happy while actively ignoring the real issue.
The House Judiciary Committee voted last week to approve the "Violence to Unborn Children." At its surface, this legislation has some appeal, despite the fact it unconstitutionally creates yet another federal crime. It is important to recall that the Constitution only allows three federal crimes: treason, counterfeiting and piracy.
Setting aside those constitutional questions -- which Congress should never do, but regularly does -- it would seem to finally offer some recognition, at the federal level, that the child in the womb is indeed a human being worthy of protection. Backers of the bill say that it will offer legal protection to the fetus from those who attack it; that is, unless the attacker happens to be an abortionist or the mother. That's the part of the bill being kept quiet.
This legislation, which is expected to come to House floor for a vote in a matter of weeks, specifically excludes from its jurisdiction violence done to an unborn child by an abortionist. The legislation states that nothing it should be "construed to permit the prosecution … of any person for conduct relating to an abortion."
At the same time, though, the legislation requires that anyone else be charged with murder in federal court, even if their actions were accidental or there was no intent to kill. The notion of "intent" has been a basis for our criminal law for centuries. Someone who unintentionally causes harm or death must still bear some responsibility, but the law has always recognized a difference between willful and accidental action. Not under this legislation.
It is certainly the case that a person who harms or causes the death of an unborn child should suffer the consequences, but in this legislation the application is artificial and arbitrary. It is okay for one person to kill a baby if they have the letters "M.D." after their name, but not if they were in a fight with the expectant mother?
The willful, premeditated taking of human life will go unpunished under this legislation, while an accidental death will face severe prosecution.
This legislation ignores the millions of children murdered every year at the hand of an abortionist, while exposing to extreme legal jeopardy the relatively small number of individuals who accidentally cause a death.
Of course, there is another class of individuals who can kill with impunity under this legislation, and that is the mother carrying the child. The bill states that charges cannot be brought against "any woman with respect to her unborn child."
As a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist for the past thirty years, I can safely assert that a higher percentage of children are put at harm in the womb by the negligence and even willful action of their mother than by an outsider. If this legislation were to be equally applied, the woman who smokes, drinks, does drugs, or engages in strenuous physical activity while pregnant should be just as liable for prosecution as a stranger who accidentally kills an unborn child when mugging a woman he doesn't know to be pregnant.
But of course, passing laws that actually recognize the full rights of the unborn as a human being is not the intention; that, after all, would require a commitment to principle, rather than politics. Instead, this legislation further enlarges the jurisdiction of the federal government by using an emotionally charged issue as justification, without actually addressing the most pressing concerns.
If passed, politicians will rest easy knowing they have passed a feel-good measure to placate a key constituency, while those concerned with the issue believe a battle has been won. Meanwhile 5,000 babies a day will continue to die at the hands of abortionists, safe in the knowledge federal law now explicitly excuses them from their actions.
And as but a side note to legal history, yet another blow will have been struck against the Constitution, the Rule of Law, and the philosophy of federalism.