News Law and Policy

GOP Response to Nightmarish Attack on Pregnant Women: ‘Personhood’ Legislation

Jason Salzman

In March, an attacker in Colorado cut a fetus from the womb of a pregnant woman. Now, state Republicans have introduced legislation allowing an "unborn child," from fertilization until birth, to be considered the victim of a crime.

Colorado Republicans, in response to a nightmarish crime during which a pregnant woman was attacked and her fetus cut from her womb, introduced a bill Tuesday allowing prosecutors to file murder charges for destruction of a fetus.

The proposed lawSB 15-268, expands the definition of “person” in specific state laws, including Colorado’s murder statute, to include an “unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth.”

Democrats immediately denounced the legislation, accusing Republicans of taking advantage of the March 18 attack on Michelle Wilkins to try to pass a so-called personhood bill in a state that has seen voters reject such amendments three times, most recently in November.

“I am disappointed that the Republicans are choosing to use what happened to the Wilkins family to get ‘personhood’ into law,” said state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) in a statement after the GOP bill was introduced Tuesday afternoon.

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“The Senate Democrats want to relay our deepest condolences to Michelle Wilkins and her family,” Steadman said. “What occurred in Longmont was horrible, and the perpetrator deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, which if found guilty could result in a sentence of over 100 years in prison. Using this tragedy to promote new laws that Colorado voters have soundly rejected is out of bounds.”

State Senate President Bill Cadman last week promised to introduce a bill that would “provide a protection for a woman to do with her body as she desires.”

The actual bill, sponsored by Cadman and 14 other Republicans, excludes from prosecution acts “committed by the mother of her unborn child,” “a medical procedure” performed by medical professionals or doctors, or the “administration” of legal medicine.

The legislation does not define “medical procedure,” leaving open the possibility that it does not include abortion, which is not mentioned in the bill’s text, either allowing for it or forbidding it. In contrast, Colorado’s existing Crimes Against Pregnant Women law, which does not give legal rights to fetuses, states that “nothing in this act shall be construed to confer personhood, or any rights associated with that status, on a human being at any time prior to live birth.”

“Colorado’s current law protects pregnant women from violence and does not punish them,” Steadman pointed out in his statement, adding that fetal homicide laws in other states have been used to prosecute pregnant women. “[The current law] protects pregnant women from prosecution while providing our justice system with proper tools to prosecute individuals that attack pregnant women.”

But Cadman has insisted that fetuses must be recognized as victims.

“I think at its core, we would all agree that there is no justice if you cannot prosecute for a victim,” Cadman said during a radio interview.

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