A corpse tampering bill may not be an anti-abortion ruse

Could a bill to make tampering with a corpse be a way Republicans could sneak anti-abortion “personhood” language into state law? Some Democrats think so, though others worries were allayed Monday by the measure’s House sponsor.

Personhood is the concept that human life begins at conception. Such language would ban abortions at any point after conception, including the use of “morning after” pills. Democrats for years have accused Republicans of trying to enter this sort of language into seemingly unrelated measures.

The bill, Senate Bill 16-034, faced the same concerns from Senate Democrats when it passed the Senate Judiciary committee in February.

In the version that came out of the Senate, tampering with a dead body to conceal evidence of a crime would become a class three felony, which carries a penalty of up to 12 years in prison and up to $750,000 in fines.

Related: Tampering with a corpse could become a felony. Who knew it wasn’t?

Current state law treats tampering with a corpse no differently than tampering with any other evidence, such as wiping a fingerprint off a glass.

Lawmakers and those who testified in favor of the bill say there should be greater punishment when the evidence is a family’s loved one.

Monday morning, Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Boulder Democrat, said House Democrats still worried the bill was a backdoor way of introducing personhood into state law. Republicans have been trying to do that for several years, including a failed effort last month.

Hullinghorst told reporters that any language that could hint at body parts might be a way to sneak the language into law.

According to the bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican, that was never his intent. Sonnenberg, a lawmaker for a decade, pointed out to The Colorado Independent that he’s never carried an anti-abortion bill in his time at the state Capitol, and this was not going to be his first.

Hullinghorst’s comments came just hours before the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, normally the Democrats’ favorite “kill” committee, took up the bill.

Its House sponsor, Rep. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, told The Independent she discussed the bill at length with personhood proponents. She concluded the bill wouldn’t do what Democrats feared.

Fields also said that as a strong supporter of a woman’s constitutional right to choose, she would never sponsor a bill that would in any way harm that right.

The bill passed the State Affairs committee unanimously, a rare feat, and sailed through its second reading in the House Wednesday morning with little objection.


Photo credit: Colorado Senate GOP, Creative Commons, Flickr

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.