Washington, Jan. 21--(UPI) The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would make it illegal to harm a fetus during the commission of a federal crime.

Approved along party lines, the measure would allow prosecutors to file separate charges if a crime involved a pregnant women whose fetus was injured. Republican proponents of the move argue it is needed because there is currently no consequence for injuring a fetus, but this argument is dismissed by critics who say the bill is no more than an attempt to undermine federal abortion law.

Democratic opponents say the real reasoning behind the legislation is to define a fetus as a person in federal statutes in a broad step aimed at overturning Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nationwide. The measure could be considered by the full House as early as February. Passage is possible, given the approval of various attempts at limiting access to abortion in the past.

However, prospects for passage in the Senate--where opposition is expected to be higher--are much more limited.

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