Colorado Senate passes fetal homicide bill on party-line vote

<p>Photo: CPR/Hart Van Denburg</p>
<p>The gold dome on the Capitol in Denver.</p>

A bill which would make it murder to end a woman’s pregnancy without her consent passed its first legislative hearing on a party-line vote Wednesday evening.

Colorado’s laws about murder and assault currently only apply to people after they’ve been born. This bill would extend those crimes to include a pregnancy from the point of conception.

Supporters argue that without a murder charge, justice can’t be done in the most heinous of cases, like the recent assault on a Longmont woman who had her fetus cut from her womb.

"My goal here was to provide that when there are two victims of a violent crime, that justice is available to both of them," said the bill's sponsor, Senate President Bill Cadman.

But opponents say it’s legally impossible to give a fetus even limited personhood without compromising its mother’s rights. The bill does include exceptions for any action taken by the pregnant woman, and any medical treatment she consents to, including abortion.

But University of Colorado law professor Jennifer Hendricks testified that similar laws in other states have led to pregnant women being prosecuted for having miscarriages or taking drugs, in spite of similar protections.

"My concern that it will be interpreted much more broadly is not hypothetical. It is exactly how an Alabama Supreme Court interpreted a similar law," Hendricks said.

Abortion rights supporters say a fetal homicide law could also have a chilling effect on access to abortion. The bill was modeled after legislation written by an anti-abortion group, although the organization says it is not attempting to limit the procedure with this policy.

The measure is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled House.