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Citing A 'Gap' In Law, Cadman Introduces Fetal Homicide Bill

Colorado General Assembly

Following a March attack in Longmont where a mother's unborn child was cut from her womb, Colorado's Senate President has introduced a fetal homicide bill. As written, Senate Bill 268 [.pdf], would define a person as an unborn human being from conception until birth for the purposes of homicide and assault cases. It's expected to draw vigorous debate at the statehouse.

"Frankly crime victims deserves justice, society demands justice," said Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs). "Currently there's a significant gap in Colorado."

Cadman said the case of Longmont resident Michelle Wilkins brought the issue back to the forefront. Wilkins' fetus died in the attack – but prosecutors could not file a murder charge against the alleged perpetrator. Cadman said that's a judicial failure that his bill could rectify for future incidents, but it also makes exceptions for a woman's own medical decisions, for instance abortions.

"To protect a woman's right to her own health care choices, and providing rights to the unborn," said Cadman. "The mother can't be prosecuted for making any choice about her own body in pregnancy. It can't get any more clear than that."

Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR
Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) speaking at the state capitol at an earlier different news conference. Cadman has introduced a fetal homicide bill at the statehouse following the Longmont attack.

Opponents aren't convinced and point to cases in other states with similar laws where pregnant women faced prosecution. For instance, in 2004 a Utah woman was charged with first-degree murder after she allegedly refused a caesarean section and one of her twins was stillborn. Democrats say Colorado's bill is out of bounds because it would try to establish personhood in law, something voters have rejected multiple times.

"What I do know is this, no other state has the history we have with the personhood initiative," said Representative Mike Foote (D-Lafayette). "We always have to be mindful of that and always have to be extra careful that we don't put something in law that could be a backdoor abortion ban."

Foote sponsored the Unlawful Termination of a Pregnancy Law in 2013. It passed the state Legislature with bipartisan support and adds extra penalties for such crimes. He said that the alleged perpetrator in Longmont, if convicted, would be behind bars for life.

"That would be an additional 32 years that could be tacked onto the sentence for anything else that is charged," Foote said. "So it's an additional charge that recognizes the tragedy of the loss and it provides serious penalties for the perpetrator."

Senator Cadman acknowledges that his bill has a long legislative journey ahead of it. He said he's open to tweaking the language if that makes it more palatable to Democrats, who control the House. But this topic has been thorny for the legislature in the past. It took them years to agree on the 2013 law. Thirty-eight states have fetal homicide laws on the books according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Cadman's bill is modeled after language from several states.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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