It seems like every year Colorado Republicans try to give fetuses the same rights people have.
This year, Senate President Bill Cadman and the GOP are using the case of Michelle Willkins, a pregnant woman whose fetus was killed when she was attacked in Longtmont, to push yet another bill through the Statehouse that would make killing a fetus homicide.
Now, pro-choice advocates fear that a feticide bill could quickly turn into an excuse to criminalize abortion. After all, Republicans have supported such measures in the past.
Normally, The Denver Post has taken a stance against personhood amendments. But this year, the paper has changed its tune in its editorial “Strengthen Colorado’s Penalty for Killing a Fetus,” which we have quoted from below.
Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, has introduced Senate Bill 268, which would make killing a fetus murder. And he has included specific language that protects mothers who choose to terminate a pregnancy or medical personnel who are asked to perform an abortion.
Abortion rights advocates are up in arms. They contend that even with those protections, by defining the fetus as a person the bill amounts to a back-door attempt to introduce the anti-abortion “personhood” amendment that has been rejected by Colorado voters several times at the polls.
We’re not at all sure they’re right given the explicit exemptions. And we say that as opponents of previous personhood amendments — as well as any version likely to surface in the future.
If abortion-rights advocates are determined to kill this bill — and they may have the votes in the House — then they should come up with an alternative. It’s not enough to argue that the accused killer of Wilkins’ baby faces charges that could result in a sentence of more than 100 years. That won’t always be the case when an unborn child is killed.
A 2013 law made it a felony to unlawfully terminate a pregnancy, but it is a Class 3 felony with a sentencing range of 10 to 32 years unless the mother dies — when it becomes a Class 2 felony. The Class 3 felony is utterly inadequate.
There ought to be a way to revise Colorado law so someone with ill intent who kills an unborn child can be charged with a crime equivalent to homicide without infringing on abortion rights. And abortion proponents, rather than merely complain about Cadman’s bill, should devise a plan that would accomplish this goal.
One of our readers, DU law professor Nancy Erhenreich wrote an op-ed for The Colorado Independent explaining why she thinks Senator Cadman’s feticide bill is a terrible idea. Here is an excerpt from her letter about how such bills impact women:
Dozens of states around the nation have passed feticide laws in recent years. Most of those laws were written in response to violent attacks like the one suffered by Ms. Wilkins and were aimed at protecting women and their fetuses from such harms. By treating the termination of a pregnancy as a separate crime against the fetus, these laws could undermine abortion rights. But there is an even more urgent reason to strongly and vocally resist moves to pass a feticide law in Colorado. Once passed, such laws have consistently — and sometimes predominantly — been used against pregnant women themselves.
In state after state, women have been charged with feticide or other crimes based on bad birth outcomes they did not cause (such as stillbirths and miscarriages), medical choices they were legally entitled to make (such as refusal of Cesarean sections), and even accidents.
An Iowa woman was charged with attempted feticide after falling down stairs. A woman in Utah was charged with homicide when prosecutors alleged that she caused a stillbirth by delaying having a C-section for two weeks. In Indiana, Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide, based on a finding that she had tried to end her own pregnancy.
As Cadman and the GOP push this year’s proposed bill forward with the blessing of The Denver Post, it’s noteworthy that Wilkins herself has stayed neutral on the feticide bill. She has not expressed support for Cadman’s attempt to pass personhood legislation in her honor, reports The Boulder Daily Camera.
Yep, you read that right. Cadman, the GOP and now The Denver Post are rallying for personhood in Wilkins’ name but — at least as of yet — without her blessing.
Photo Credit: David Shinbone, Creative Commons, Flickr.