Since the murder of Laci Petersen two
years ago, the investigation and subsequent arrest and trial of her
husband Scott Petersen has grabbed headlines across the nation. The
fact that Laci Petersen was pregnant when she was brutally murdered
has only added to the public outrage surrounding the trial.
Unfortunately, lawmakers have chosen to exploit this tragedy and
use it as part of a renewed assault on Roe v. Wade. Originally
introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001, the Unborn
Victims of Violence Act, also known as “Laci and
Conner’s Law,” while cloaked in positive terms, is
nothing more than a deceptive method of establishing a legal
precedent that could lead to the end of a woman’s right to
choose.

Laura Wong

The bill would impose harsher penalties on federal crimes that
“cause the death of or bodily injury” to an unborn
child. In prior debates in the House, an amendment proposed by Rep.
Robert Scott (D-Va.) was rejected, as was the “Motherhood
Protection Act,” authored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.),
both of which would inflict strict penalties on criminals, but
without language that conferred personhood on embryos or fetuses.
If this was simply an issue of recognizing a heinous crime and
dispensing a fitting sentence, such an amendment would be welcomed
and would pass with bipartisan support. Denying these attempts at
legislative cooperation further suggests that the underlying
motives of the UVVA are to clear a path for a future challenge of
Roe.

As much as and Republican legislators will try to spin it
otherwise, this bill is not about protecting the rights of
expectant mothers. Even one of its most influential backers, Senate
Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), admitted that abortion is
a key factor and said, “They say it undermines abortion
rights. It does undermine it.”

The problem with “Laci and Conner’s Law” is
that it grants the unborn child the status of a person, thus
imparting all the entitled legal protections. If passed, this bill
would imply a federal definition of when life begins, a question
subject to much debate since the Roe decision. The text of the bill
states clearly states that “unborn child” means
“… a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage
of development, who is carried in the womb.” The bill’s
supporters tend to ignore this change in precedent when advocating
for its passage, and it is important to understand which legal
loopholes could accompany such a distinction.

No one can deny that violence against pregnant women is
atrocious; indeed, perpetrators of such crimes deserve severe
punishment. But this legislation presents a frightening challenge
to all who believe in the right to reproductive choice. If the
supporters of this bill succeed in circumventing the debate by
denying the relevance of abortion, a woman’s right to choose
will be in serious jeopardy.

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