The Unborn Victims of Violence Act was passed in 2004. It exists in United States Code in Title 18, Chapter 1, Section 1841, in the Uniform Code of Military Justice under Title 10, and Chapter 22 as Article 119. The law was enacted to remedy the lack under Federal law of a law granting protection to fetuses. The Bill's proponents argued that as a result of this oversight an embryo harmed in an attack on its mother could not be considered an assault victim.
Concerns over the passage of laws granting Federal recognition to unborn victims of violence arose from the fear that such a law would be used to protect not only assault victim rights, but also to deny pregnant women access to their court-protected right to an abortion.
The Bill is also referred to in colloquial usage and a gesture of support by its proponents as Laci and Conner's Law, in reference to the murder of a pregnant woman, Laci Petersen, carrying a fetus, Connor, at the time by her husband, Scott. The drive to recognize Connor as an assault victim under the law drove the Federal push to recognize the law, which as implemented in California, had already been implemented to prosecute the Petersen deaths as a double homicide.
Prior to the passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence, thirty-four states had laws on their books for recognizing that the unborn infant could be considered an assault victim. In twenty-four states the states put this rule in effect for the entire term of the fetus's gestation, and in ten for part of that period.
An exception to Federal law's inability to accord to the unborn victims of assault a degree of legal protection could be found in the "born-alive rule," in which the embryonic assault victim was born before dying, thereby taking on the then-operative features for a legally protected individual.
After being introduced in 1999, the first form of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act failed to pass the Senate, but succeeded after being reintroduced in 2003, and was signed into Federal law by President Bush in 2004. At the time the Bill faced steep opposition from abortion rights' supporters, including Bush's Presidential rival, Senator John Kerry, who felt that the Bill's language could be interpreted to define abortion providers as being guilty of homicide.
In an effort to specify that it applied only to the criminal assault on the mother, language was added to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act allowing its successful passage that stated that it could not be used to prosecute an abortion provider acting with the consent of the pregnant woman and with the certification of the law.
The specific definition in the Bill for a fetal assault victim is that of a "member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb." As a Federal law, it applies to matters over which the Federal Government specifically holds some kind of jurisdiction.