Unborn Victims of Violence Measure Clears House

March 20, 2012
Matthew Black /Free Photos

DENVER, CO – A bill to criminalize fetal homicide bill narrowly passed the House today in a 33- 32 vote split along party lines – reflecting the Democrats’ adamant opposition and Republicans’ ardent support for the measure. Despite the bill’s passage in the House yesterday, it faces a more difficult road in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

House Bill 1130, sponsored by Republicans Rep. Janak Joshi, of Colorado Springs, and Sen. Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield, would make it a crime to murder an unborn child in the event of a criminal act against the mother, such as murder, assault or vehicular homicide.

“We honored our Girl Scouts – past, present and future,” said Joshi of a legislative resolution last week to honor the GSA troops. “But somehow we have missed giving them the protection of the law when a criminal hurts them during the most wonderful stage of their life which is pregnancy.”

“When a criminal perpetrator hurts or kills a pregnant woman and kills her unborn child, the criminal literally gets away with murder,” said Joshi. “This bill is all about criminal justice… contrary to what we keep hearing, this bill is all about protecting our women.”

Legislators said there have been countless incidents of unborn children dying from accidents and assaults over the years. Most recently in the Denver metro area, Laurie Gorham Sherlock’s unborn baby perished in December 2010 after a hit-and-run driver injured Sherlock at an intersection in Stapleton. The case remains unresolved.

Nationally known is the case of Scott Peterson who killed his wife Laci and unborn son Conner in California in December 2002. In that state, the death of the unborn was son was already a criminal offense and charged against the father.

The Peterson case led to Congress passing the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004. The act defines an unborn victim as “a member of the species Homo Sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

Similar language is found in HB 1130, but Democrats have opposed the bill because they say it establishes personhood legal rights to a fetus – a status that has been placed twice on the ballot but overwhelmingly rejected byColoradovoters.

During the bill’s second reading last Friday, Lois Court (D-Denver) questioned the intent of the bill and said that the language, “an unborn member of the species Homo Sapiens is a pretty ambiguous term. This is personhood plain and simple.”

“We need to respect what they have said,” said Court of the personhood amendments rejected by voters in 2008 and 2010.

“What Representative Joshi is trying to do is bring criminal justice, which has been long overdue, to pregnant women who have been killed, beaten, maimed or injured by the very reason for being pregnant,” said House Majority Leader Amy Stephens. “This is a violent criminal act against women.”

“This is a criminal justice bill whose time has come,” declared Stephens.

“There is nothing in this bill that says that personhood will not be established. There’s nothing. Look at the bill! Read the bill! This is a disaster,” asserted Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver).

Rep. Daniel Kagan (D-Greenwood Village) argued that the bill’s language could lead to a charge of murder against a young woman who takes a “morning after pill” or a doctor who performs an abortion.

If a doctor performs a safe abortion but his license has expired by one or two days or wasn’t licensed in Colorado, he has committed a crime of homicide under this bill, said Kagan.

“I don’t see how those charges are remotely involved in this bill,” said Rep. Chris Holbert (R-Parker). He added that the bill had been amended to exempt contraception choices and medical procedures approved by the mother of an unborn child.

Democrats insisted Colorado has existing laws against crimes committed against a pregnant woman. HB 1130, they argued, is too stringent because a driver of a vehicle involved in an accident could be charged with homicide if a mother is injured and her unborn child dies – whether it is a one-day old fertilized egg or full term fetus.

“This is about creating criminal code in the state of Colorado that protects the unborn child,” declared Assistant House Majority Leader Mark Waller. “This bill is not about abortion; it exempts abortion. This bill is a criminal justice bill that protects a child in the womb.”

Waller said it’s the difference between a 9-month old child having protection versus an unborn 9-month old child being unprotected from a criminal act that results in death.

“I would like to go back to that horrible accident in (Stapleton) where the whole community was in an uproar because a  woman lost her baby. She lived, but there were no legal recourse available to her,” said Rep. Carole Murray (R-Castle Rock), said of Sherlock.

“When a baby dies in certain circumstances, it’s murder,” said Murray. “I think the bill is very clear about that.”

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