Crimes on pregnant women debated
DENVER — A bill designed to allow prosecutors to file additional charges against people who cause the death of an unborn child turned into a long debate on personhood and abortion in the Colorado House on Friday.
Republican lawmakers agreed with their Democratic counterparts that most of what’s in HB1154 is needed. The bill creates several new crimes against pregnant women that results in termination of their pregnancies.
But it was a single sentence near the end of the bill, which won preliminary House approval, that caused them the most consternation. It reads: “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 live birth.”
Republican lawmakers said that changed the intent behind the bill from a policy matter designed to enhance public safety and protect pregnant woman, to a political measure pushing a pro-choice agenda.
“We absolutely have to protect pregnant women in this state. That’s key,” said Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita. “But what we’re asking for is a clean bill that does just that and nothing else, that doesn’t act as a Trojan horse ushering in the removal of statutes in criminal law and other statutes that has nothing to do with crimes against women.”
The measure is nearly identical to one former Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, carried several times over the course of her legislative career.
Except for the personhood wording, the only real difference in Bradford’s measure was that it focused on crimes against unborn children, rather than crimes against pregnant women.
House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and co-sponsor of that 2011 bill with Bradford, said that wording was enough to make the personhood sentence a separate subject, and therefore in violation of the state’s single-subject rules on legislation.
“The problem is ... we’re adding more language that says nothing in this statute shall be construed to confer personhood,” he said. “That moves the dial. It makes this bill about something it’s not. It takes this bill out of the discussion in the criminal code and it puts it squarely into a divisive social issue.”
The measure stems from a long-standing legal issue that bars district attorneys from filing charges in the deaths of unborn children, including those that stem from numerous drunk-driving fatalities, and others from intentional killing of the unborn through poisonings, beatings or other means.
Some of those legal difficulties stem from a 2009 Colorado Court of Appeals ruling in People v. Logan Lester Lage.
In that Mesa County case, the 24-year-old Lage struck a car being driven by Shea Lehnen of Collbran, killing her unborn child, Lileigh.
Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger charged Lage with first-degree murder of the child, but the appeals court threw out the case on the grounds that the child’s injuries occurred before she was born. As a result, she was not a “person” under the eyes of the law.
Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder and one of the bill’s main sponsors, said the personhood language was designed to allow for prosecutions in deaths of unborn children without acknowledging they are “persons” and going against wishes of Colorado voters. Twice voters have rejected so-called “personhood” ballot questions by huge margins.
Republicans also complained that the bill removed all references to the state’s criminal abortion statutes, but Levy said those laws have long been declared unconstitutional and need to be removed.
The bill requires a final House vote, which could come as early as Monday, before heading to the Senate for more debate.