Legislator defends bill, says Dems are mistaken
Some Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee can’t get past the abortion issue, Rep. Laura Bradford said.
The Collbran Republican is trying to persuade the 11-member panel and its seven Democrats that her House Bill 1261 isn’t really about the pro-life, pro-choice debate.
Instead, the measure is about the right of a mother who already has chosen to have a child and doesn’t want to see that baby, whether it’s been born or not, harmed by anyone, she said.
“On the first page, the very first section there refers to what the bill shall not apply to,” Bradford said. “It was important ... to put this section right up front to make it very clear. We want to create a tool for district attorneys to prosecute first-degree, premeditated intent, harm, if not murder to an unborn child. We wanted to be as specific as we could.”
Some members of the panel, however, said laws already exist, making it a crime to kill an unborn fetus, and they questioned why another was needed.
Committee chairwoman Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said while that law may not have been artfully crafted, it seems to work. Additionally, she said there are aggravating factors in the law for murder cases that can lead to stricter sentences.
“But the qualification is that the defendant had to know or reasonably should have known that the victim of the offense was pregnant,” she said. “The concern I have is ... this (bill) makes it a class 1 felony if you intend to cause the death of a mother regardless of whether you even knew the person was pregnant.”
The committee heard testimony on the bill late Monday, but didn’t vote on it.
Kevin Paul, general counsel for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told the committee the bill also opens the door to giving rights to an unborn fetus, something 73 percent of Colorado voters rejected in 2008 when it defeated Amendment 48, which would have defined a human at the moment of conception.
“It plows headlong into that part of Roe versus Wade which directly addresses the question of whether our jurisprudence will permit recognizing a fetus as a person,” he said. “The (U.S. Supreme) Court said ... our jurisprudence will not accept that.”
Bradford, who said the committee could vote on her measure as early as Thursday, said just before that happens, and to get more votes for it, she intends to narrow the measure further. She has amendments to make it apply to murder only by removing a provision that extends it to voluntary manslaughter charges, too.
Bradford said Colorado is one of 15 states that has no law covering crimes committed against unborn children, and the 35 states that do vary in their application. Some apply to all crimes; others only to murder. Some apply to unborn children in the final trimester; others at conception.
Her bill would apply to an unborn child after its 16th week.
Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, who described himself as a pro-choice proponent, told the committee the current law is poorly drafted, and Bradford’s bill would clear things up.
“I do not believe the amendment that was voted down by the voters two years ago had anything to do with this issue,” he said. “There is something significantly different about a near-full-term fetus who is wanted and healthy and entirely viable who dies because of criminal conduct.”
Hautzinger, this year’s president of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, said he has dealt with four similar cases in his time as a prosecutor, most recently in the 2008 shooting death of 23-year-old Anna Macias in Grand Junction and the 2007 highway death of the unborn daughter of 26-year-old Collbran resident Shea Lehnen.
Lehnen’s vehicle was hit head-on by a Grand Junction man during a high-speed chase with the Colorado State Patrol. Macias was shot by her boyfriend, Lonnie Ray Herrera, a felon who was free on parole. Both women were 8 1/2 months pregnant at the time of the deaths.
Bradford said she’s not sure she has enough support to get the bill passed. She said at least one Democrat on the panel, Pueblo Rep. Sal Pace, is with her, and a second one, Denver Rep. Daniel Kagan, is on the fence, but tilting towards no.
With the four Republicans on the committee, she needs at least two Democrats to advance it to the House floor.
“They’re getting a lot of pressure from the (Democratic) caucus,” she said. “For some, I could soften it until it’s something completely different, and they’d still vote no.”