September 29, 1999
The Administration strongly opposes enactment of H.R. 2436, which would
make it a separate Federal offense to cause "death or bodily injury" to a
"child in utero" in the course of committing certain specified Federal
crimes. If H.R. 2436 were presented to the President, his senior advisers
would recommend that he veto the bill.
The Administration has made the fight against domestic violence and other violence against women a top priority. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which passed with the bipartisan support of Congress in 1994, marked a critical turning point in our national effort to address domestic violence and sexual assault. VAWA, for the first time, created Federal domestic violence offenses with strong penalties to hold violent offenders accountable. To date, the Department of Justice has brought 179 VAWA and VAWA-related Federal indictments and awarded over $700 million in VAWA grants to communities to assist in combating violence against women.
Unfortunately, H.R. 2436 is not designed to respond to violence against women. The Administration has significant public policy concerns with the legislation, as described in the Department of Justice letter to the House Committee on the Judiciary on September 9, 1999. For example, H.R. 2436 would: (1) trigger an excessive increase in the length of the sentence as compared with the sentence that could otherwise be imposed for injury to a woman who is not pregnant; (2) depart from the traditional rule that criminal punishment should correspond to the knowledge and intent of the defendent; and (3) identify a fetus as a separate and distinct victim of a crime, which is unprecedented as a matter of Federal statute, and unnecessary to achieve the goal of increasing the punishment for violence against pregnant women.
H.R. 2436 is careful to recognize that abortion-related conduct is constitutionally protected; however, this does not remove all doubt about the bill's constitutionality, as explained in the Department of Justice letter to the House Committee on the Judiciary on September 9th.
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 2436. We understand, however, that Representative Lofgren will offer an alternative that appropriately focuses on increasing the punishment for violence against pregnant women without identifying a fetus as a separate and distinct victim of a crime.
The Administration is willing to work with Congress to develop legislation that would strengthen the punishment for intentional violence against women whom the perpetrator knows or should know is pregnant, strengthen the criminal provisions of VAWA, and reauthorize the grant programs established by VAWA.