The stories, the senators noted, were heartbreaking. Leah Kathleen Gee was seven months pregnant when she was shot to death in 2003; her baby, delivered by Ceasarian section, died two weeks later. Fifteen-year-old Amanda Hanson, also pregnant, was strangled in 2003.
Both of their murderers are in jail for life, without the possibility of parole. But the families of the two women wanted the killers charged with two murders. They spoke this week in support of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Dave Schultheis – which he likened to a Colorado version of Laci and Connor’s Law
But one big problem, noted Sen. Brandon Shaffer, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee: Schultheis’ bill included wording that could easily be interpreted to target doctors who perform abortions.
“The way I read this, he or she [a doctor] would be guilty of murder,” Shaffer said.
Specifically, Shaffer highlighted these lines from the proposed bill:
A person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if… after deliberation and with the intent to cause the death of a person other than himself or herself or of a fetus, he or she causes the death of that person or fetus or of another person or fetus…
Schultheis, a Republican from Colorado Springs and a staunch abortion opponent, argued that it was not his “intent” to have the wording apply to doctors, to which Republican state Sen. Shawn Mitchell backed him up. “The debate should be the intent [of the bill] rather than abortion,” he said.
But attorney Ed Ramey, who testified in opposition, said Shaffer’s interpretation was dead on. The bill, he asserted, is unconstitutional. Plus, Ramey noted, Colorado already has penalty enhancements in place that are extended to people who murder pregnant women.
Despite Mitchell’s assertion, this week’s testimony veered directly into the abortion issue, in part fueled by Father Bill Carmody, the Respect Life director of the Diocese of Colorado Springs who was also at the hearing. Saying he was there representing himself, Carmody argued that the issue over the “personhood of the child in the womb” was the crux of the debate. Mitchell interjected, wondering whether interpretations could be taken another way – including the slippery slope in which pregnant women will no longer be able to receive additional Medicaid funds, as their fetus is not considered a person.
“We’re not talking about Medicaid funding, or abortion, as I understand it,” Sen. Shaffer interjected.
The committee eventually postponed the bill indefinitely, on a party line vote of 4-3.
But the abortion argument is far from over this session. Senate Bill 143, filed this week, would make it a class 3 felony to perform an abortion, except for when the life of the mother is in danger. Its primary sponsors are Sen. Scott Renfroe, a Greeley Republican, and Rep. Kent Lambert, a Colorado Springs Republican who replaced Schultheis in the House of Representatives when Schultheis was elected to the Senate in November.
Cara DeGette is a longtime Colorado journalist and a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.