Colorado’s Senate president introduced a fetal homicide bill this week. As written, it would define a person as an unborn human being from conception until birth for the purposes of homicide and assault cases. It’s expected to draw vigorous debate at the statehouse.
Senate Bill 268 [.pdf] would allow prosecutors to file a murder charge if an unborn baby is killed or dies during an assault or murder of the mother.
“Frankly crime victims deserve justice, society demands justice. Currently there’s a significant gap in Colorado,” said Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs).
Cadman said the case of Longmont resident Michelle Wilkins brought the issue back to the forefront. Wilkins’ fetus was cut from her womb last month and died – but prosecutors could not file a murder charge against the alleged perpetrator. Cadman said that’s a judicial failure that his bill could rectify for future incidents, but it also makes exceptions for a woman’s own medical decisions, for instance abortions.
“To protect a woman’s right to her own healthcare choices, while at the same time providing rights to the unborn,” said Cadman. “The mother can’t be prosecuted for making any choice about her own body during her own pregnancy. It can’t get any more clear than that.”
But opponents point to cases in other states with similar laws where pregnant women faced prosecution. For instance in 2004 a woman in Utah was charged with first-degree murder after she allegedly refused a Caesarean section and one of her twins was stillborn. Democrats say Colorado’s bill is out of bounds because it would try to establish personhood in law, something voters have rejected multiple times.
“What I do know is this, no other state has the history we have with the personhood initiative,” said Representative Mike Foote (D-Layfette). “We always have to be mindful of that and always have to be extra careful that we don’t put something in law that could be a backdoor abortion ban.”
Foote sponsored the Unlawful Termination of a Pregnancy Law in 2013. It passed the state legislature with bi-partisan support and adds extra penalties for such crimes. He said that the alleged perpetrator in Longmont if convicted, would be behind bars for life.
“That would be an additional 32 years, that could be tacked onto the sentence for anything else that is charged. So it’s an additional charge that recognizes the tragedy of the loss and it provides serious penalties for the perpetrator.”
Senator Cadman acknowledges that his bill has a long legislative journey ahead of it. He said he’s open to tweaking the language if that makes it more palatable to Democrats, who control the House. But this topic has been thorny for the legislature in the past. It took them years to agree on the 2013 law. Thirty-eight states have fetal homicide laws on the books according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Cadman’s bill is modeled after language from several states.