Updated: February 21, 2012 at 12:00 am
A bill to allow prosecutions against criminals who harm unborn children advanced Tuesday, despite the objections of Democrats who suggested it would open the door to prosecuting women who have abortions.
The six Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee said the bill was nearly a mirror image of a bipartisan measure that was poised last year to become law but was killed for political reasons. The biggest difference is that last year’s bill specified that it was not bestowing “personhood” onto fetuses and embryos. This year’s proposal does not say that.
It does, however, say a person can be prosecuted for killing or injuring an “unborn member of the species homo sapiens.”
“This bill criminalizes abortion,” said Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Greenwood Village. “It is inescapable that you have created personhood for fetuses, and personhood for unborn children is a notion which has been rejected time and again by the people of Colorado.”
Republicans rejected Kagan’s argument, and said the bill was crafted carefully so it would not apply to consentual abortion.
“This is a very straightforward concept. It is not criminalizing abortion. Quite the contrary,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs Republicans Janak Joshi, who is sponsoring the bill, and Mark Waller, who carried last year’s bill, said the intent was simple — to provide law enforcement a way to prosecute those who cost unborn children their lives.
“This bill is neutral on the subject of abortion completely,” said Waller.
The measure, which has been reduced to four short paragraphs, is also much simpler than last year’s. The 2011 bill would have created several new felonies, with separate titles, categories and classes.
Joshi’s bill this year would allow prosecutors to charge suspects with the same violent crimes against both the pregnant woman and her unborn child. If a woman is assaulted or murdered, the bill would allow a suspect to be charged for the same crime twice. Suspects could also be charged with homicide, though, if the woman lived but miscarried.
Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May, of Colorado Springs, helped write Joshi’s bill. He said the bill would give him and his colleagues a way to prosecute such crimes the way they should.
“We’re going to have to prove homicide or assault, so it’s pretty narrow,” May told committee members.
Criminal Defense Bar President Mary Claire Mulligan disagreed, and said the bill is too broad, and could lead to the prosecution of many women who have abortions, intentionally or otherwise.
“The bill could victimize the person who is meant to be protected,” Mulligan said.
The measure heads now to the House Appropriations Committee, and from there will likely go to the full House.
Thirty eight states have some sort of unborn children prosecution law, according to Joshi.