Tangled in abortion politics, Waller derails his fetal-homicide bill

Rep. Mark Waller (image: Mark Waller)

Misinformation ended the life of House Bill 1256 that would have made the willful killing of a fetus up to a 2nd degree felony in Colorado statutes, according to Republican prime sponsor Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs. Waller said emails he received made it clear the bill would become the focal point for a fight over abortion, a fight neither he nor others wanted this year.

The bill was never intended to address abortion in any way, but simply make a crime to kill a fetus in situations ranging from domestic abuse to hit and run automobile accidents.

Waller said emails he was receiving made it clear his bill was about to elicit a firestorm of propaganda that would only serve to kill the bill when it moved into the Senate.

“I was getting emails last night that said, I can’t believe that you want to use my federal tax dollars to support abortion. Where the heck did that come from? I don’t know,” Waller told the Colorado Independent. “But the problem was that it was growing legs of its own. It was becoming way too politically charged of an issue that had a significant risk of dying if we amended the language to what some people wanted versus the way some other people wanted to have it amended. Rather than trying to massage that system and have everybody beat-up beyond belief at the end of the day when the chances were not looking good–why do that?”

Both Democratic and Republican members of the House Judiciary committee expressed dismay at Waller’s decision to postpone indefinitely a bill he said he had spent numerous hours working through with people on both sides of the debate.

Sponsors and members of the committee, Reps. Bob Gardner, B.J. Nikkel, and Mark Barker, all raised the importance of the issue and said the bill was one that deserved a better end than was being handed to it. They, like Waller, blamed misinformation for trying to turn the bill into one that fueled the fires of the abortion issue.

“You have, in my mind, what is a good bill,” Gardner said. “…But let me say there has never been a bill that has seen this level of disinformation and misinformation.”

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, told Waller that he still had a good bill and one that should move forward. “I share your dismay that we are not going to move with the bill because of arguments that are completely extraneous to the issue.”

The bill would have created new offenses: unlawful termination of a pregnancy in the first degree, unlawful termination of a pregnancy in the second degree, unlawful termination of a pregnancy in the third degree, unlawful termination of a pregnancy in the fourth degree, vehicular unlawful termination of a pregnancy and aggravated vehicular unlawful termination of a pregnancy.

Waller said that he wanted to bring the bill forward because a woman who was 8 1/2 months pregnant recently lost her unborn child due to a hit and run driver.

“There is really no charge for the loss of that baby,” Waller said. “While this is a criminal justice issue, it inflames both sides of the abortion issue. I have to tell you members of the committee, I believe that is incredibly unfortunate…that we can’t come together and pass a law that absolutely needs to happen.”

“It thought maybe this year it could happen. I have worked my tail off to try and make that happen because I believe 100 percent it is the right thing to do. We have to have a statute that punishes people for killing unborn children.”

Waller said 35 other states have laws to address this issue. He said he worked with both Planned Parenthood and Colorado Right to life. He said the issue came down to a clause that said personhood is not implicated while the other said this is a criminal statute and that information did not need to be in the bill.

Waller told the Colorado Independent said there were amendments that would have removed a section of the bill.

“The right to life folks bring up a valid point when they said that this is a criminal justice provision. Why does this language need to be in there? My goal was never to move the dial and if we are somehow doing that I don’t want to be a part of that,” Waller told journalists.

Waller said he was not interested in advocating for either side on the bill.

“What it boiled down to was a construction piece that said nothing in this article shall be construed to confer the status of personhood. We couldn’t come to an agreement on that.”

The bill’s language states: “Nothing in this article shall be construed to confer the status of “person” upon a human embryo, fetus, or unborn child at any stage of development prior to birth.”

Father Bill Carmody said he had met with Waller for close to an hour to express his concerns about the bill and had advocated for California style fetal homicide legislation.  He said he was concerned that though abortion had been decriminalized since 1967, the bill’s removal of the criminal statute would take Colorado back a step “if and when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade.”

“The other problem is that other than in the title, there is no mention of the word child in the bill. It goes out of its way to say it is not a person. It goes out of its way to say it is not anything human, so bring manslaughter charges if it is not human.”

While Carmody said it was the pro-choice folks who killed the bill by placing the “personhood” article in the bill, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains spokesperson Monica McCafferty said that was simply not true. She said they had come to the table with the understanding that the bill was not an abortion or personhood bill.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains CEO & President Vicki Cowart reiterated McCafferty’s statements in a press release.

“The text of the bill itself made it clear from the beginning that this bill was not about abortion. In fact, the abortion exclusion was necessary to ensure that this bill remain a criminal justice statute,” Cowart said in a statement. “It is evident that anti-choice extremists were successful in hijacking what began as a bipartisan bill, pushing an ideological, dogmatic agenda, and turning this into a denunciation against women and reproductive health.”

Senate prime Sponsor of the bill Pat Steadman, D-Denver, had been watching the bill carefully for changes that might have weakened women’s rights.

Steadman told the Colorado Independent, “It is really unfortunate that it has become complicated by Republican party politics and the far right fringe of their base standing in the way of public safety legislation that protects crime victims, but those are the choices that they have made.”

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