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‘Personhood’ and ‘Fetal Homicide’ Legislation Introduced in Colorado Legislature

Jason Salzman

Anti-choice state lawmakers have introduced legislation in Colorado that defines life as beginning at conception, reflecting "personhood" ballot initiatives defeated overwhelmingly in 2008 and 2010.

Despite overwhelming odds against any anti-choice bills turning into laws in Colorado, where the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature are controlled by pro-choice Democrats, Republican state lawmakers have introduced two anti-abortion bills so far this year, and more could be on the way.

One bill would completely ban abortion, even in the event of rape and incest, making abortion allowable only if the mother’s life were in danger. Prosecution would not be warranted, however, if medical treatment for the mother unintentionally caused an abortion.

Introduced by state Rep. Stephen Humphrey (R-Severance) and co-sponsored by 19 state lawmakers, the legislation defines life as beginning at conception and thus reflects “personhood” amendments defeated overwhelmingly in Colorado in 2008 and 2010.

The bill states that “the sale and use of contraception is not prohibited by the bill,” but contraception must be administered “prior to conception.” It is widely believed, however, that these bills would in fact ban common forms of contraception, many of which the anti-choice movement misleadingly claims are abortifacients. IUDs, for example, prevent pregnancy; they do not cause abortion, though anti-choice sites continue to claim that they do

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“I understand that some people may consider my bill a divisive issue, but I along with a majority of my constituents strongly support the bill and believe we must protect our most vulnerable children,” Humphrey said in a statement.

“It’s bad enough that this bill puts politicians and government in between Colorado women, their families, and their physicians, something Colorado voters have repeatedly rejected at the ballot box,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. “This bill could result in jailing doctors. A Class 3 felony is a minimum 4-12 year sentence.”

A second bill, introduced by state Rep. Janak Joshi (R-Colorado Springs), aims to change Colorado’s criminal code to allow prosecutors to bring murder or assault charges against people who “cause death or injury to an unborn member of the species homo sapiens.”

A Colorado law passed last year makes it a crime to recklessly terminate a pregnancy (for example, if a drunk driver hits a pregnant women), but this new bill, which was opposed by Joshi and others, does not allow prosecutors to bring murder charges against the perpetrator (for example, the drunk driver), and it does not treat the “unborn member of the species homo sapiens” as a victim of the crime, only the pregnant woman.

Joshi’s bill was killed Thursday on a 6-4 party-line vote by Democrats, which control both houses of the Colorado legislature.

“This bill is about criminal justice,” said Joshi, as reported by Denver Fox 31 political reporter Eli Stokols. “This bill is about protecting women and giving their unborn children protection under the law.”

Hoping for a better reception by Colorado voters, anti-choice activists have placed a “fetal homicide” measure on the November ballot here that reflects the language of the bill defeated Thursday. The amendment to the Colorado Constitution would add “unborn human beings” to the definition of a “person” in the state’s criminal code.

“This legislation is a back-door attempt to chip away at settled law guaranteeing reproductive choice for all women in the United States,” wrote ProgressNow Education Director Amy Runyan Harms in an email alert Wednesday. “Colorado already has laws providing for tough sentences for crimes against pregnant women, making this legislation completely unnecessary. Your Colorado legislators need to know you see through the far right’s deceptive language, and that you won’t stand for this attack on women’s rights and health.”

It’s still unclear whether anti-choice legislators will introduce a bill, as they did last year, banning public funding for entities that “directly or indirectly” perform abortions as well as separate legislation banning abortion “undertaken for the purposes of eliminating an unborn child of undesired sex.”

Both these bills, opposed by pro-choice groups, were defeated last year by Colorado Democratic lawmakers, as were the “personhood” abortion ban and “fetal homicide” measures introduced this year.

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