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The Unborn Victims of Violence Act: Is it to Protect Mothers or Undermine Roe v. Wade?

May 09, 2003

On Wednesday, Congressional Republicans introduced the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" that would make it a crime to kill or injure a fetus.

Sunday is Mother’s Day.

Most people don’t know this, but the holiday is ancient, dating back millennia.

The earliest Mother’s Day celebrations in Western History can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honor of the Rhea, the Mother of the Gods.

In 17th century England, many of England’s poor worked as servants for the rich and lived in houses of their employers. On "Mothering Sunday," servants were allowed to take the day off and return home to spend the day with their moms.

In the United States, the earliest version of Mother’s Day was Mothers’ Work Day, and it was initiated in 1858 in West Virginia. During the Civil War, local teacher Anna Reeves Jarvis extended the purpose of Mothers’ Work Days to press for better sanitary conditions for both sides in the conflict.

In 1872, Julia Ward Howe suggested holding an annual Mother’s Day. Howe is well known as the author of the words to 'the Battle Hymn of the Republic'. But she was horrified by the carnage of the Civil War, and proposed establishing Mother’s Day as a day dedicated to peace. A year later, women in 18 cities celebrated a Mother’s Day for Peace, and some continued to celebrate it for the next thirty years.

It was Anna Jarvis, daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis, who was the power behind the official establishment of Mother’s Day. She swore at her mother’s gravesite in 1905 to dedicate her life to her mom’s project, and establish a day to honor mothers, living and dead. She wrote to politicians, clergy members, business leaders, and women’s clubs.

The US congress passed a Mother’s Day resolution in 1914. But the bill emphasized women’s role in the family, not as activists in the public arena, as Howe’s Mother’s Day had been.

Well Congress is still interested in the issue of mothers, pregnancy, and women’s role in the family

On Wednesday, Congressional Republicans introduced a bill that would make it a crime to kill or injure a fetus.

The "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" is sponsored by the staunchly anti-abortion Republican Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio and by Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Rick Santorum is the same senator who made headlines last week when he equated gay sex with incest. He said, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."

Pro-choice activists say the legislation will undermine Roe v. Wade, and supporters of the bill agree. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told CNN, "They say it undermines abortion rights. It does."

But Hatch and other supporters say the undermining of Roe v. Wade is irrelevant. They say the law is important because it would protect pregnant women whose unborn babies are harmed or killed in a federal crime.

The legislation has passed the House twice before but has languished in the Senate. However, anti-abortion activists are more hopeful this year because of a larger Republican majority in the Senate, and public outrage over a highly publicized case in which a pregnant woman, Laci Peterson, was killed. Peterson had planned on naming her son Conner. The bill is now known as "Laci and Conner’s Law."

Currently, 26 states have already enacted laws that make it a crime to kill or injure a fetus.

President Bush has indicated recently that he strongly supports the proposed legislation.

  • Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

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