(CNSNews.com) - In a 252 to 172 vote, the House Thursday passed legislation that would make it a federal crime to harm an unborn baby in the process of attacking a pregnant woman.
Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who sponsored the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, was encouraged by the vote. The bill had 95 co-sponsors.
"A bipartisan majority in Congress is committed to closing this scandalous gap in federal law. Once everyone got beyond the shrill rhetoric and looked at the facts, they realized what we are trying to do just made sense," Graham said in a written statement Thursday.
Abortion supporters opposed the bill as a first step toward defining an unborn baby as a person -- with the ultimate goal being to outlaw abortion. Graham pointed out that the bill received support from both pro-lifers and abortion supporters in the House.
"There aren't 252 pro-life members in the House of Representatives. We picked up a lot of support from pro-choice members. I think that shows the bill isn't about abortion, but holding criminals accountable for their actions," said Graham.
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), a pro-life organization, applauded the vote, but booed the introduction of a "one-victim substitute" amendment that would have increased penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman, but would not make harming a fetus a separate crime.
Republicans defeated the amendment before the final vote.
"Lawmakers who voted for the one-victim bill will have to explain why they voted to say that, when a criminal attacks a pregnant woman and kills her unborn baby, nobody has really died," said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson.
"These groups oppose any recognition that unborn children are members of the human family, even when their right to life is violated by criminal attackers," said Johnson.
The Concerned Women for America (CWA), the nation's largest public policy women's organization, praised the vote. "The success of this vote shows the far-reaching support this legislation gained," said Michael Schwartz, vice president of government relations for CWA in a written statement.
"The American people expect justice to be done; they believe criminals should be held responsible for taking a life. Legislators should support this bill as a deterrent to violent crime," Schwartz said.
"Violent assailants should not be given a pass for their crime because their victim was inside a loving mother's womb," said Wendy Wright, director of communications for CWA. "A mother or father should not suffer a second assault of their child being ignored by our justice system."
"The Senate will be the next phase in our battle for justice," said Schwartz. "I believe the president's support will encourage the senators who know this is the right thing to do. The American people want justice. They want this legislation signed into law."
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) was disappointed by the vote. "This would be the first time in the federal legal system that we would begin to recognize a fertilized egg, a zygote, an embryo or a fetus. That's what the bill is trying to do."
Conyers added, "Most people understand that [Roe] is under attack and that's why the National Abortion Rights and Reproductive Action League is opposed, Planned Parenthood Federation of America is opposed, the National Abortion Federation is opposed, the National Women's Law Center is opposed," Conyers said. "You think they don't understand this bill very much? I think they do."
Rep. Jo Ann Davis, (R-1st Va.) supported the legislation. "Currently under Federal law, if a criminal assaults or kills a woman who is pregnant and thereby causes death or injury to that unborn child, the criminal faces no consequences for taking or injuring an unborn life," Davis said in a written statement.
"The Unborn Victims of Violence Act provides defense for the defenseless, and follows the lead of several states that already give legal protection to unborn children for criminal acts of violence," Davis said.
Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) also applauded the vote.
"Those who do not respect the sanctity of life have built a legacy upon lies. They lied to us about the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion, and now they are trying to tell us that there is nothing inside a mother's womb that ought to be protected from a murderer. This is wrong. We must stand up for mothers and their children," Watts said in a written statement.
House To Debate Unborn Victims Of Violence Act (April 26, 2001)