DENVER– Colorado Springs Christian conservative state Senator Dave Schultheis failed in his bid to redefine fetus-killing First Degree murder Wednesday. His bill, which detractors saw as a back-door attempt to work an anti-abortion “personhood” law onto the books, failed to pass out of committee.
Schultheis maintained at the State Senate Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs that the bill meant merely to protect pregnant women and close potential loopholes in existing law.
Chair for the committee Democratic Senator Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, acknowledged that stronger legislation should be written to protect pregnant women but felt that increasing those penalties under the current statutes would run a less intrusive course than advancing the suspect Schultheis bill.
Senate Bill 10-113 would have made the killing of a fetus a Class 1 homicide in cases where an individual either knowingly killed a “person including a fetus” or did so when acting in a way they knew could result in the death of another.
The bill did make specific exceptions where the mother of the fetus consented to the act or when a doctor undertook a procedure to save the life of the mother.
“This bill is actually about trying to reduce violent acts against pregnant women by making a penalty of killing a fetus a capitol offense,” Schultheis said. “Any perpetrator who would do such a thing needs to know that he or she is going to receive the harshest penalty for taking a life of the pregnant mother and her unborn.”
Democrat Betty Boyd of Lakewood said she felt that the appropriate penalties were already in place to protect pregnant women.
“I believe that Colorado already has laws in place in its statutes to handle these sorts of crimes,” Boyd said. “We have the unlawful termination of pregnancy statute which is a Class 4 felony and we also have an aggravating factor and a Felony 1 and various enhancers for this kind of crime.”
But the Colorado District Attorneys Council (CDAC) and El Paso County District Attorney Dan May , who Schultheis said crafted the bill, disagreed that the present laws were strong enough. They said that although charging suspects with killing a fetus might double penalties, at least in cases where unlawful termination of a pregnancy was concerned, that charge held only a maximum sentence of six years.
“Colorado does not currently have any law that recognizes children as unborn victims of crime,” said Linda Johnston, CDAC’s Ending Violence Against Women program director. The District Attorney’s council supports legislation that recognizes the victimization of unborn children. She said that 36 other states recognize in some form the killing of an unborn child as manslaughter or murder.
May argued that increasing the penalties would create a greater deterrent and further instruct justices on how to rule in cases where fetuses die. He said the law had won the bipartisan support of the county district attorneys in the state.
Although Heath agreed that a six-year penalty did not seem enough of a deterrent, he said he was not willing to vote for a bill that potentially defined a fetus as a person. He asked Johnston if the CDAC would support a bill that would see unlawful terminations penalties increased. “Would that work as a remedy?” he asked
Johnston said CDAC would likely support such a solution in the future.
Kevin Paul, general council to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said that in his mind Schultheis’s bill unquestionably defined a fetus as a person.
“Obviously this bill as drafted makes some provisions to medical treatments such as abortions. However, it defines that exception by defining a fetus as a person.” He said a lawmaker in Texas had made a similar argument, which the Supreme Court rejected.
“By defining this particular offense as homicide, as murder, and defining a victim of the element of that crime as causing the death of a fetus, it is very difficult to work around the definition that the state is with this bill casting its seal of approval on the definition of when life begins. Of course something can not be dead unless it is alive.”
Schultheis asked the committee to consider when voting how they would feel if their potential grandchild had been killed.
“I think we need to take this step and make Colorado the 38th state [to pass similar legislation].”
“I am very sympathetic to what you are trying to do here,” Heath said. “I am also sympathetic that I don’t think I want to decide personhood through this bill.”
The bill lost in committee on a partyline vote.