Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Bush Ad Claims Kerry Voted Against “Protections for Pregnant Women”

It's a misleading ad. What Kerry really voted against was the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act."


In an ad released July 8 the Bush campaign attacks John Kerry for missing many Senate votes but still finding time “to vote against the Laci Peterson law that protects pregnant women from violence.” It’s literally accurate, but artfully worded to avoid tipping off viewers to the real controversy over the bill Kerry opposed — the legal right to abortion.

What Kerry and 34 other Democrats actually voted against was the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.” The new law recognizes an “unborn child” as a second victim if injured or killed during certain federal crimes of violence against the mother. The bill was backed by anti-abortion groups while opponents called it an attempt to undermine abortion rights. Kerry voted for an alternative measure to accomplish the same end but without making specific reference to an “unborn child.”

The ad is also misleading when it says Kerry “missed a vote to lower health-care costs by reducing frivolous lawsuits against doctors.” It is true that Kerry missed that vote — two, actually. But as we’ve noted before, most studies show that capping damage awards to victims of medical malpractice won’t do much to slow the rising cost of health care. Besides, Kerry’s vote would not have made a difference either way.

And when the ad faults Kerry for missing a vote to fund our troops, it leaves out the fact that the bill passed both houses of Congress without a single vote against it.


The ad is true enough when it says Kerry has missed the great majority of Senate votes while campaigning for President. Where it twists the facts is in its descriptions of the bills it cites to support its argument that Kerry’s priorities are misplaced.

Bush Cheney ’04
Ad: “Priorities”

Bush: I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Announcer: Leadership means choosing priorities. While campaigning, John Kerry has missed over two thirds of all votes.

Missed a vote to lower health-care costs by reducing frivolous lawsuits against doctors.

Missed a vote to fund our troops in combat.

Yet, Kerry found time to vote against the Laci Peterson law that protects pregnant women from violence.

Kerry has priorities. Are they yours?

Against “Protections for
Pregnant Women?”

It’s a fact that Kerry voted against what the Bush ad refers to as the Laci Peterson law (H.R. 1997). The measure passed and Bush signed it into law April 1.

However, what the new law actually does is increase penalties for violence against a “child in utero” by making it a separate federal offense when the mother is the victim of certain federal crimes of violence — such as an assault in a federal park or on a military base. Its sponsors even named it the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” and anti-abortion groups that lobbied for it call the crime “fetal homicide.”

Kerry and other abortion-rights advocates called the measure a backdoor attempt to challenge legal abortion by defining a fetus as a human being with legal protection. Kerry (and nearly half the Senate) supported a different measure that would have had the same effect without making reference to an “unborn child.”  That measure — called the “Motherhood Protection Act” by its sponsors — would have made it a separate offense to inflict violence that “causes the termination of a pregnancy or the interruptions of the normal course of pregnancy.” It failed in a  49-50 vote with 43 other Democrats supporting it, along with Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords and four Republicans.

When the Senate passed the “unborn victims” measure, Kerry was among 38 senators voting against it, including 2 Republicans.

Missing in Action on Healthcare Costs?

Kerry did miss two votes on bills to limit medical malpractice awards, but there’s little support for the claim that the bill in question would have lowered health-care costs as the ad states. Kerry’s absence made no difference in the outcome anyway.

The President says that putting caps on damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits would reduce healthcare costs by 5-9% without adversely affecting the quality of care. Yet most studies show that capping malpractice awards would have little overall impact on medical spending. For a full discussion of this, see our earlier article.

Kerry’s vote would have made no difference in the outcome. Each bill would have failed with or without his presence. He missed a vote Feb. 24 on a motion to invoke cloture and thus cut off a Democratic filibuster against a bill to place caps on damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits against obstetricians and gynecologists. And April 7 he skipped a cloture vote on a similar bill to curb awards against emergency and trauma center personnel as well as obstetricians and gynecologists.

Senate Democrats did not need Kerry’s vote to block either bill – the President fell far short of the 60 votes needed on both occasions. The February vote was 48 for, 45 against, and the April vote was 49 for, 48 against.

Missed a Vote to Fund Troops? So What?

It’s also true, as the Bush ad claims, that Kerry missed a vote to authorize defense spending and thereby “fund our troops in combat.” In fact, he missed two votes. He missed one vote on an amendment (S. Amdt 3260) to authorize an extra $25 billion as a “contingent emergency reserve fund” for possible use to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kerry also missed the vote on the overall $420 billion Pentagon authorization bill (S. 2400).

However, Kerry’s absence had no practical effect. The larger authorization bill (S. 2400) passed 97-0 on June 23. Kerry was one of three senators who missed the vote. The other two were Republicans. Kerry was one of five senators who missed the 95-0 vote on June 2 to authorize the extra $25 billion “reserve fund.” The missing five included two Republicans.



Watch Bush-Cheney ’04 Ad: “Priorities”


U.S. House of Representatives, 108th Congress, 2nd Session H.R. 1997 “Laci and Conner’s Law” or “ Unborn Victims of Violence Act 2004” Introduced 7 May 2003.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 108th Congress – 2nd Session H.R. 1997 Vote #63. 25 March 2004.

Juliet Eilperin, “Bills to Change Fetus’s Status Gain Support; Measures Expanding Crime Victim Designation Call Backdoor Curbs on Abortion Rights,” The Washington Post 19 July 2003.

S. Amdt 2858 to H.R. 1997 Introduced 25 March 2004.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 108th Congress – 2nd Session S. 2061 Vote #15 Introduced 24 February 2004.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 108th Congress – 2nd Session S. 2207 Vote #66 Introduced 7 April 2004.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 108th Congress – 2nd Session S. Amdt 2858 Vote #61 25 March 2004.

S. Amdt 3620 to S. 2400 Introduced 2 June 2004. U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 108th Congress – 2nd Session S. Amdt 3620 Vote #106 2 June 2004.

U.S. Senate, 108th Congress, 2nd Session S. 2400, “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005” Proposed 11 May 2004.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 108th Congress – 2nd Session S.2400 Vote #146 Introduced 23 June 2004.