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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
US House reopens abortion debate
Operation Save America - Operation Rescue anti abortion protesters
Abortion is an emotional issue in the US
The US House of Representatives has passed a bill making it a federal crime to harm a foetus during a criminal attack on a pregnant woman - a move that many Americans see as the latest stage in the battle over abortion rights.

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act was passed by a vote of 252-172 along largely partisan lines after fierce debate about its abortion-rights implications.

The bill specifically states that it does not apply to voluntary abortions.

US President George W Bush
Mr Bush is seen as an opponent of abortion
It must still win approval from the Senate - which has not scheduled a vote on a similar measure - before becoming law.

President George W Bush, who moved to limit abortions in his first week in office, welcomed the measure.

"This legislation affirms our commitment to a culture of life which welcomes and protects children," he said in a statement.

Democrats defeated

The House approved the bill in preference to a Democrat-sponsored initiative that was more limited in scope.

Texas Republican Tom DeLay said the Democratic bill "fails to acknowledge that when unborn children are killed they have been murdered".

Make no mistake - this is an attack on a woman's right to choose

Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York
He urged lawmakers to support the Republican-sponsored bill that would establish criminal penalties for situations in which a pregnant woman is attacked and survives but loses the foetus.

Advocates of abortion rights said the bill was a first step towards limiting a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.

"Make no mistake - this is an attack on a woman's right to choose, and we know clearly and squarely where the Bush Administration stands," said Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York.

Previous attempt

The House passed a similar bill by a similar margin in 1999, but it died in the Senate when then-President Bill Clinton said he would veto it.

Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas
Mr DeLay led the Republican effort to pass the bill
People on both sides of the debate see this year's bill as a Republican attempt to push the measure through now that the White House is apparently more sympathetic.

The US Supreme Court established a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy in 1973 with the Roe v Wade decision.

It has never accepted the definition of a foetus as a human being.

Opponents of abortion hope that Mr Bush will appoint Supreme Court justices who will help roll back Roe v Wade.

He appointed an abortion opponent, John Ashcroft, to the post of Attorney General despite vocal Democratic Party opposition.

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See also:

29 Mar 01 | Americas
Abortion doctor murder suspect held
03 Feb 99 | Americas
Violence and the pro-life campaign
03 Feb 99 | Americas
Huge fine for anti-abortion site
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