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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 05:05 GMT
US foetus law sparks abortion row
By Justin Webb
BBC correspondent in Washington

Human foetus
Opponents say the bill is the first step to giving foetuses distinct rights
The US Senate has overwhelmingly passed legislation which makes it a separate offence to harm a foetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.

Opponents bitterly denounced the measure as an attempt to strike at the legality of abortion.

The legislation is supported by President George W Bush, who will sign it into law, but opposed by his Democrat challenger, John Kerry.

It is likely to be a bitterly divisive issue in the presidential election.

Pregnant women who have been harmed by violence, and their families, know that there are two victims - the mother and the unborn child - and both victims should be protected
President George W Bush
Sponsors of this proposal said their only objective was to establish in criminal law that a foetus injured during an assault was just as much a victim of the crime as the expectant mother.

Opponents said they had no objection to increased penalties for attacks on pregnant women.

But the bill's definition of the foetus as "a member of the species homo sapiens at any stage of development who is carried in the womb" has horrified them.

Election issue

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said it was the first strike against all abortion in the US.

[The bill is] the first step in removing a woman's right to choice, particularly in the early months of a pregnancy before viability
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Although the economy and national security will loom large in the presidential election, so-called cultural issues like this one and that of gay marriage will also be of huge importance.

Here the Republicans believe they, not the Democrats, represent mainstream American opinion.


SEE ALSO:
Battle over rights for foetuses
24 Mar 04  |  Americas
US Senate backs abortion bill
05 Nov 03  |  Americas
Murder case sparks abortion row
27 May 03  |  Health


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