Advocates for abortion rights are urging members of the Senate to defeat a bill that would provide legal protection to the unborn who are hurt or killed during the commission of a federal crime.

On April 26 the House passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (HR503) by a vote of 252-172.

Under the bill, people who commit federal crimes of violence against pregnant women could be charged with second offenses on behalf of unborn children.

Unborn children are not recognized as victims of crimes under current federal statutes, and an assailant who kills or injures them receives no additional punishment. The law would apply regardless of a baby's stage of development and regardless of whether the attacker was aware of the pregnancy. The bill specifically excludes abortions.

The 1999 adoption of a similar law in Arkansas allowed the state to prosecute Erik Bullock, who was charged with ordering the death of his ex-girlfriend's unborn child. Shiwona Pace was nine months pregnant when three men, allegedly hired by Bullock, attacked her in order to kill the baby.

While being beaten, kicked, and choked, Pace pleaded for her child's life, according to the Associated Press. One of the attackers cursed at her and said, "Your baby is dying tonight."

Pace survived, but her baby girl, whom she named Heaven, died in the womb shortly after the attack.

Bullock—now serving a life sentence for capital murder—and his three accomplices were the first to be charged under Arkansas's Fetal Protection Law. The law criminalizes harming a fetus more than 12 weeks old, with exceptions for abortions.

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