Washington The House voted Thursday to treat attacks on a pregnant woman as separate crimes against both her and the fetus she is carrying. Critics say it would undermine abortion rights by giving fetuses new federal legal status.
Passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act was backed by the White House and President Bush's conservative supporters. Following enactment of the law banning "partial birth" abortions last year, the bill is this year's prime measure dealing with the unborn.
It passed 254-163 after the House rejected a Democratic-led alternative that would have increased penalties for attacks on pregnant women in which the fetus is injured or killed without conferring new rights on fetuses.
Backers further highlighted the bill by naming it in honor of Laci and Conner Peterson, the pregnant woman who was murdered in December 2002, and her unborn child.
Laci's husband Scott Peterson faces double murder charges under California's unborn victims law. California is one of 29 states that have enacted such laws, and supporters said Congress needed to bring the federal government in line.
The House has twice before, in 1999 and 2001, passed unborn victims bills, but in both cases the Senate did not take up the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has pledged to bring up the bill soon, but it's uncertain whether he has the votes to pass it.