Hickenlooper ‘revolted’ by attack on pregnant woman, open to debate on fetal homicide

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Photo: John Hickenlooper in Washington (AP Photo)
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper gestures while he speaks at the opening news conference at the National Governors Winter Meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015.

In his first in-depth public comments on the case of a Longmont woman who was attacked and had a fetus cut from her womb, Gov. John Hickenlooper said the nature of the incident, "and the intensity of just how visceral most people have a response to it, really compels us to want to do something."

Hickenlooper spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner on Tuesday.

Michelle Wilkins, 26, was pregnant with a baby in its third trimester, when she was assaulted earlier this month, allegedly by Dynel Lane, 34. Wilkins survived the attack but her fetus did not. Lane has been charged with eight felonies, including attempted murder of the mother, which could result in a sentence of more than 100 years in prison, according to the district attorney in Boulder County, where charges were filed.

"This is, I think, without question, one of the most horrific things I've ever heard of in my adult life," Hickenlooper said.

Asked whether he felt the charges against Lane are sufficient, he added: "People feel the need to do something that is more directly responsive to this kind of a crime."

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, did not say whether he would support a bill to create a murder charge if a fetus is killed. Republicans in the state house say they intend to introduce such a bill soon. Democrats have avoided such legislation in the past over concerns it would criminalize abortion.

"These bills can come in 50 different shapes and sizes," Hickenlooper said, adding, "You can't conjecture on what the specifics of a bill will be."

He said a law created a few years ago, called the Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act, is a good place to start the discussion of how to respond to the crimes against Wilkins and her unborn fetus.

"The 2013 law created a new class of assault charges when a perpetrator unlawfully terminates a woman’s pregnancy," according to CPR News reporter Megan Verlee. "But it doesn’t describe the crime as homicide because Democrats were worried that could be a slippery slope toward granting rights to fetuses and embryos."

Hickenlooper also spoke about support for upping the state's low vaccination rates, the future of the state's health insurance exchange, what can be done to reduce child poverty in Colorado, the state's ability to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, and the reasons behind Colorado's Sunday ban on car sales.

Hickenlooper on Colorado's comparatively low vaccination rates

Colorado has one of the lowest -- in some cases the lowest -- rates in the country for childhood vaccinations for things like Measles and Whooping cough. It's an issue the governor is passionate about, because his son, Teddy, who is now in middle school, got whooping cough as a child. "He was in Children's hospital," Hickenlooper said. "Having stayed up all night watching my son literally turn blue in front of my eyes, that's not an image that ever gets far from my consciousness."

"It was an ordeal that I don't even like to think of this, because you feel so powerless, and our children, in situations like this, it is very disconcerting to know that your child has an illness because your neighbor didn't want to get a vaccination that scientifically is held to be, without question, a very positive benefit. This isn't something that's still being debated in the medical community."

On what Hickenlooper wants to do to increase vaccination rates

"Colorado is the kind of beacon of Western ethics. There's great respect for personal freedom here. And I think that there's a way to respect that personal freedom, and allow people some flexibility in terms of opting out in some specific cases, without making it such a blanket [opportunity to opt out]... I think we need to ask a few more questions before somebody opts out, and make it so they are aware of, by opting out of a vaccinations, the risk they are creating not just for their own child, but for their neighbors."

Hickenlooper said he is talking with lawmakers about potential legislation to address the issue.

On whether Connect for Health Colorado can achieve financial stability

"Yes, I think it will. I mean they've gone through a difficult period, but pretty much any time you create something new, that's never been done before, whether it's in business or in government, you go through some rocky periods."

The man leading the exchange right now, Gary Drews, said recently, “The exchange… needs to find a way to attract more users to be sustainable.”

On the state's decision to end plans that don't comply with the Affordable Care Act

The Division of Insurance announced recently that noncompliant health plans will be discontinued next year. The state could have waited another year to cancel the approximately 190,000 plans, but chose not to. Coloradans whose plans are discontinued will mostly likely have to go to Connect for Health Colorado to get coverage.

The state's insurance commissioner consulted with Hickenlooper decision. He said his opinion was not aimed at increasing the number of people signed up for coverage through Connect for Health Colorado.

"I think more to the point for me was, we are moving towards a new system. And various chambers of commerce, pro-business organizations, even many of the large insurance companies all said, 'Hey, if we're going in this direction, let's get there.'"