News Maternity and Birthing

Colorado Bill Would Allow Civil Lawsuits for ‘Unlawful Termination’ of Pregnancy

Jason Salzman

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign legislation, passed by the state legislature Monday, allowing women to sue for civil damages if, for example, a drunk driver struck her car and caused her to lose her pregnancy.

Legislation is awaiting the signature of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper that would allow women to sue a person for civil damages for “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” causing an “unlawful termination of her pregnancy.”

The bill, called the Civil Damages for Unlawful Termination of Pregnancy Act (HB 14-1388), adds to the legal options given to women last year when Colorado passed the Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act (HB 13-1154), allowing prosecutors to file criminal charges against perpetrators of negligent acts against pregnant women.

“This bill represents the next step in ensuring pregnant women in Colorado have protections both criminally, and civilly,” said Cathy Alderman, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, in a statement released after the legislation cleared the Colorado Senate Monday.

“The bill has been carefully crafted so that it will not restrict access to reproductive health care,” said Alderman. “Specifically, HB-1388 will not establish personhood; it will not subject women to civil suits for actions they take in regard to their own pregnancies; and it will not subject doctors who provide safe and legal reproductive health care to additional civil action.”

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The legislation, which is expected to be signed by Hickenlooper, states that “nothing 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.”

It also states that “nothing in this act shall be construed to create a cause of action against a woman arising from her own actions, or inactions, that result in an injury to her pregnancy; and [n]othing in this act shall be construed to create a cause of action against a health care institution or health care professional engaged in providing health care services to a patient.”

With language like this, in clear support of abortion rights, anti-choice activists see the bill not as legal recourse for women who’ve lost pregnancies but as part of a larger effort against their campaigns to restrict abortion.

“HB 1388 is another deceptively-written anti-personhood bill designed to protect abortion providers,” Personhood USA spokesperson Jennifer Mason told Rewire in an email. “Much like the extreme HB 1154, this bill does nothing to protect pregnant women, and in fact deliberately demeans and dehumanizes unborn babies.”

“Personhood” backers like Mason also say life begins upon the formation of a zygote, at the moment a sperm enters a human egg. So they object to the language of the proposed law, which defines “pregnancy” to mean the “presence of an implanted human embryo or fetus within the uterus of a woman.”

Mason’s organization has a plan to pass its version of “infant-homicide” law in Colorado. Personhood USA is backing an amendment, which will appear on the November election ballot, that would allow prosecutors to bring murder charges in cases where a pregnancy was lost as the result of a reckless act.

The initiative, called the Brady Amendment, would give new legal rights directly to “unborn human beings,” by defining “‘person’ and ‘child’ in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings.”

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