Dems Reject Unborn Child Act Inspired by Michelle Wilkins Attack

 Last month, we told you about Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman's sponsorship of Senate Bill 15-268, known as the Unborn Children Act. Cadman said the legislation was inspired by the Longmont attack on Michelle Wilkins, whose unborn baby, Aurora, was cut from her body, allegedly by Dynel Lane. Yet, because of Colorado law (and a lack of evidence that the child had survived for a time outside the womb), Lane wasn't charged with murder for the crime. See our previous coverage below.

Now, the legislation has died in a Senate committee on a 6-5 party-line vote, with all five Republicans favoring it and the six Democrats turning thumbs down, reportedly due to concerns that the measure was essentially a stealthy way to legalize personhood, the concept that life begins at conception. Colorado voters have rejected personhood amendments on multiple occasions in recent years, most recently in 2014.

Colorado Citizens for Life, which supported previous personhood measures, has blasted the vote. The organization's Facebook page links to a report on about the outcome that frequently cites CCFL director Sarah Zagorski. "“It is a travesty that not a single Democrat voted in favor of this legislation, which would bring justice for babies like Aurora who die in violent homicides. At the very least, Colorado Citizens for Life would hope that lawmakers could put aside their partisan differences to pass this common sense piece of legislation," she's quoted as saying.

The piece also includes the names of all the Democrats who voted against the measure — representatives Su Ryden, Joe Salazar, Mike Foote, Susan Lontine, Dianne Primavera and Max Tyler — and encourages readers to express their displeasure via phone or hyperlinked e-mail addresses.

As for the vote itself, Vic Vela, a contributing reporter for Colorado Public Radio and the Colorado Statesmen, offered Twitter updates from the hearing, with a focus on the amount of time allotted for debate. Here's one example....

...and a followup about a time-limit compromise with a minor typo:

Doubling the time to one minute didn't satisfy the Republicans; Vela says they complained about the limitation after the vote went against them.

Vela describes Representative Foote's objections to the bill like so:

Foote retweeted the message above.

However, we've been unable to find post-rejection statements on Facebook or Twitter from any of the other Democrats or the state party as a whole — no surprise, given the passion with which so many people view the Wilkins attack.

As for the Republicans, the main social-media reaction we've been able to find is this tweet from Representative Patrick Neville:

Expect this issue to return in future years, at both the ballot box and the Colorado general assembly. Continue for our earlier reporting.

Update below, 9:50 a.m. April 15: As promised, Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman has introduced a bill inspired by the womb-cutting attack on Michelle Wilkins in Longmont and the decision not to file a murder charge against Dynel Lane, her alleged attacker, even though Wilkins's child, who she named Aurora, didn't survive.

Senate Bill 15-268 has been dubbed the Offenses Against Unborn Children Act; it's on view below.

Previous attempts to pass such legislation have failed amid accusations that the legislation was actually a veiled personhood measure. Cadman's proposal may face similar charges, even though language in it attempts to undermine such claims in ways that at least one previous effort didn't.

In a statement about the introduction of SB 15-268, Cadman makes it clear the Wilkins matter was his inspiration:
"Colorado’s conscience was shaken less than one month ago by two disturbing events. The first event was the murder of Aurora Wilkins and injury of her mother, Michelle Wilkins, in one of the most heinous crimes in recent memory. The second event was a decision by Boulder County’s District Attorney not to bring murder charges in the death of Aurora Wilkins, citing the fact that Colorado law makes no provision for such a charge in this or similar circumstances. Most Coloradans undoubtedly were surprised to learn that this unborn child isn’t afforded the same legal protection, the same claim to justice, the same equality under law that her mother is."

Background on this issue can be found in reporter Melanie Asmar's January 2013 post about Democrats' defeat of what was then dubbed a fetal-homicide bill sponsored by State Representative Janak Joshi. We've shared that bill below as well, but here's its summary:
The bill provides that, if the commission of any crime codified in the criminal code or traffic code is the proximate cause of death or injury to an unborn member of the species homo sapiens, the prosecuting attorney, in charging the underlying offense, may also charge the homicide or assault offense that is appropriate to the death or injury.
Opponent argued that this language would have codified in law the concept that life begins at conception — a key element of personhood measures that have been defeated numerous times at the ballot box. Joshi denied this assertion, but Dems won the day and eventually saw the passage of House Bill 13-1154, which established what Asmar described as "a new category of crimes related to the unlawful termination of a pregnancy."

These laws formed the foundation of Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett to file eight felony counts against Lane over the Wilkins attack, but not murder, because the Boulder County coroner's office said the autopsy on the fetus showed no evidence of live birth.

The outcry over Garnett's actions helped inspire SB 15-268, whose summary differs considerably from the one in Joshi's previous bill. It reads:
The bill defines "person" for the purposes of homicide and assault offenses as a human being and includes an unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth. For purposes of a prosecution of a homicide or assault offense, the bill does not apply to

• An act committed by the mother of her unborn child;

• A medical procedure performed by a physician or other licensed medical professional at the request of a mother of her unborn child or the mother's legal guardian; or

• The lawful dispensation or administration of lawfully prescribed medication.
The first part of this section, and especially the definition of a person as including "an unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth," certainly seems susceptible to stealth personhood assertions. The text's broadness suggests that it would allow prosecutors to file a murder charge in cases of falls resulting in miscarriages of pregnancies only a few weeks along.

As for the bulleted items, they will be portrayed in some quarters as allowing legal abortions — but it remains to be seen if legislators concerned with protecting this right will fear they can still be twisted by the anti-choice crowd.

Another Cadman statement appears to anticipate such arguments.

"This bill is comparable to federal law and the laws of nearly forty other states. It has been found to appropriately protect women's rights while extending rights to their unborn children," he's quoted as saying.

He adds, "The U.S. Supreme Court has sanctioned this very concept as providing the balance needed to ensure justice for both."

Update: After the initial publication of this post, we received a statement about Cadman's bill from NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Executive Director Karen Middleton. She describes it as a "personhood" bill and opposes its passage. Here's her take:
"What happened to Michelle Wilkins was awful, and like all Coloradans our hearts go out to her and her family. We support pregnant women who are the victims of crime, and we support holding criminals accountable under our laws.

But SB 268 isn’t the answer. Under the guise of establishing fetal homicide, Senate Republicans have introduced a bill that will result in establishing fetal ‘personhood’ and outlaw access to safe and legal abortions in the state of Colorado.

SB 268 is a very dangerous proposal for Colorado women and their health. It undermines Colorado law, which is the gold standard for protecting pregnant women. Colorado’s law is carefully balanced, unlike other states where fetal homicide laws have been used to prosecute pregnant women and even put them in jail.

Using tragedies as political cover to enact an abortion ban, criminalize doctors, and prosecute pregnant women is wrong. SB 268 contradicts the will of Colorado voters and mainstream, longstanding Colorado values supporting our right to personal, private medical decisions without government interference. We oppose it."
Learn more by reading Cadman's bill, followed by Joshi's 2013 proposal.

Senate Bill 15-268

House Bill 13-1032

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