News Violence

Trial Begins for Woman Accused of Cutting Another Woman’s Fetus From Womb

Jason Salzman

The state's GOP legislators have used the alleged attack as a way to push radical anti-choice measures that could effectively end legal abortion in Colorado.

A Colorado jury is expected to decide next week whether Dynel Lane lured Michelle Wilkins to her house with a Craigslist advertisement for free baby clothes last year and forcibly cut a fetus from her womb.

The state’s GOP legislators have used the alleged attack as a way to push radical anti-choice measures that could effectively end legal abortion in Colorado.

Lane, in the trial that got underway Wednesday, is charged with attempted murder for last year’s attack, along with other penalties under Colorado’s 2013 “Unlawful Termination of Pregnancy Act,” which could land her in jail for more than 100 years.

Colorado’s law, which is among 38 “fetal homicide” state laws, does not give a fetus legal rights, and therefore prevents prosecutors from using the measure to charge pregnant people for crimes against a fetus, such as reckless endangerment of a fetus or murder.

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But the Colorado law stops short of allowing prosecutors to charge suspected attackers, like Lane, with murder, because the law states that a fetus should not be considered a person.

Pro-choice advocates in Colorado point to the charges against Lane as proof that the Colorado law strikes a balance between protecting women’s rights and hitting criminals with tough penalties.

Anti-choice Republicans in Colorado have long thought otherwise, opposing passage of the act in 2013 and then proposing a fetal “personhood” law last year, after the attack against Wilkins. The “personhood” measure would have given legal rights to a fetus, they claimed, for the purposes of allowing prosecutors to bring murder charges against defendants like Lane.

Democrats rejected the measure last year amid a local media storm. Democrats did away with a similar measure last week in a Colorado house committee. Colorado Senate Republicans may introduce yet another fetal “personhood” bill after the trial, state observers say.

Pro-choice advocates said last year that a fetal “personhood” bill could not be crafted under present political circumstances “without it becoming a tool for controlling and punishing pregnant women themselves,” as Lynn Paltrow, director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, put it.

Lane’s attorneys have tried to move the trial from Boulder District Court to a new location, arguing that the intense media coverage of the case precludes Lane from getting a fair trial. These requests, including one Tuesday, have been denied.

Wilkins testified Wednesday that Lane attacked her with a knife, according to the Denver Post’s account of the first day of the trial.

The Post’s front-page headline, “Michelle Wilkins describes Craigslist attack in which fetus was cut from her womb,” generated outrage from Denver conservative talk radio host Dan Caplis on KNUS 710 AM this morning. He said “everyone knows” it was a “baby,” and the Post’s use of the word “fetus” was wrong.

Fetus” is the scientific term used by medical professionals to describe a pregnant person’s offspring from about the tenth week after the last menstrual period to birth.

The Post’s account of the trial, including video, goes into detail about Wilkins’ struggle against her attacker, her injuries, her trip to the hospital, and more. Jurors heard testimony from a local emergency room doctor and a police officer, along with a recording of a 9-1-1 call from Wilkins.

Lane’s public defender, Jennifer Beck, told the court that her client did not plan the attack or attempt to murder Wilkins, the Post reported.

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett told the jury in his opening statement that the fetus never took a breath.

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