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Fetal homicide bill defeated by Democrats not a Trojan horse for personhood, sponsor says

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Update: As we reported yesterday, a fetal homicide bill sponsored by Republican Representative Janak Joshi was defeated along party lines, with Democrats saying they plan to bring forward a measure that accomplishes similar goals without being a "Trojan horse" for personhood; see our original coverage below. After our post was published, we received an e-mail from House Republicans saying that House Democrats had misinterpreted Joshi's bill.

According to the e-mail, our post didn't make clear Joshi's true intentions, which did not have to do with personhood. We offered to chat with Joshi about the confusion over his bill and his relationship with Personhood USA, which testified in favor of it.

At the hearing Monday, Joshi said his bill was "about criminal justice" -- a point he reiterated during an interview with Westword. "There's nothing here about criminalizing abortions," he says. The purpose, he says, is to protect women during the "vulnerable" state of pregnancy.

"The other side keeps saying this is a back-door to personhood," Joshi says. "No. This is to protect women from perpetrators."

As for his connection with Personhood USA, Joshi says that group is just one of several, including the Fraternal Order of Police, that were supporting his bill. He says he spoke at the press conference to answer questions about what happened.

As for the Democrats' bill, Joshi says he's only glanced through it. If he has questions, he'll approach the bill's sponsors, who he says didn't share the details with him before introducing it.

Continue to read our previous coverage of Representative Janak Joshi's fetal homicide bill. Original post, 11:59 a.m. January 29: Republicans and Democrats agree that there should be consequences for those who cause a woman to lose her pregnancy. But they disagree on how to make that happen. After defeating a Republican-backed bill that would have allowed someone to be punished for causing death or injury "to an unborn member of the species homo sapiens," House Democrats introduced their own bill -- which accomplishes the same end but doesn't confer personhood to a fetus.

The defeated bill was sponsored by Republican Representative Janak Joshi of Colorado Springs, who introduced a similar measure last year. Joshi's bill, HB 1032, says that if a crime is "the proximate cause" of death or injury to an unborn human, "the respective homicide and assault charges for that death or injury" may be brought against the suspect.

Opponents say Joshi's bill is a back-door way to make a fetus a "person" under the law. "That's the point behind it," Kevin Paul, an attorney for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said at a hearing on Joshi's bill yesterday. Paul called the bill's language "confusing."

A press release from House Democrats was even harsher, saying Joshi's bill was "a Trojan horse for personhood." The bill was quickly defeated in a party-line vote, with the four Republicans on the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voting for it and the seven Democrats voting against it.

The Democrat-supported bill, HB 1154, was introduced later that afternoon. It creates a new category of crimes related to the unlawful termination of a pregnancy. (The crimes would not include abortion, which is legal.)

A law passed in 2003 already makes it a crime to intentionally cause a woman to lose her pregnancy. But it doesn't address what happens if someone recklessly causes the same thing; for example, if a driver hits a pregnant woman and her unborn baby dies or, as in the Aurora theater shooting, a pregnant woman is shot by someone who doesn't necessarily know she's pregnant. The Democrats' bill, sponsored by Representatives Mike Foote and Claire Levy, seeks to close that loophole.

However, the bill makes clear that it would not "confer personhood, or any rights associated with that status, on a human being at any time prior to live birth."

Continue for more about testimony on Joshi's bill. Heather Surovik, a mother who lost a pregnancy as the result of a car accident last July, says her unborn son, Brady, was indeed a person. "He was eight pounds, two ounces and was a perfect little boy," she told lawmakers yesterday.

Surovik testified in favor of Joshi's bill. She said she was in the last few weeks of her pregnancy and on the way home from a doctor visit when her car was struck by a drunk driver. Surovik, her mother and her five-year-old son survived the crash. Brady did not.

Learning that prosecutors could charge the driver with destroying her property but not with the death of her son was difficult, Surovik said. "Every year the legislature looks for excuses to reject the recognition of babies like Brady as victims of violent crimes is another year that you choose to side with the criminals and against mothers," she added.

Ellen Belef of the group We Are Women Colorado testified against the bill. While she said she sympathizes with women who've lost babies and is in favor of holding accountable those responsible, "this is not the way to accomplish that."

Representative Ray Scott asked Belef to clarify her language, noting that she'd used the word "babies." He asked her a simple question: What exactly have those women lost?

"They lost a pregnancy," Belef said politely. In the audience, Surovik began to cry.

Continue for more on Personhood USA's involvement with Joshi's bill. After the bill was defeated, Surovik and Joshi spoke at a press conference hosted by Personhood USA, whose stated mission is to "serve Jesus by being an advocate for those who can not speak for themselves, the pre-born child. We serve by starting/coordinating efforts to establish legal 'personhood' for pre-born children." Surovik announced that she's seeking a constitutional amendment that would include the following language:

In the interest of the protection of pregnant mothers and their unborn children from criminal offenses ... the words "person" and "child" in the Colorado Criminal Code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act must include unborn human beings.

In 2008 and 2010, Colorado voters rejected so-called personhood amendments that would have defined the word "person" as indicating any human being from the moment of conception. An effort to put the question on the ballot again in 2012 failed. The Colorado Secretary of State's office found that supporters did not collect enough signatures, though Personhood USA says it plans to fight that decision in court.

Whether the state's wrongful death law applies to unborn babies is the subject of a civil lawsuit explained in this week's cover story "The Meaning of Life." That case involves a father who's suing a Catholic hospital in Canon City for the wrongful death of his wife and unborn twin sons. The hospital's operator, Englewood-based Catholic Health Initiatives, is arguing that it can't be held liable for the twins' deaths because fetuses aren't people.

Personhood USA spokeswoman Jennifer Mason says that if the proposed constitutional amendment -- which the group has nicknamed "the Brady amendment" -- were adopted, organizations such as Catholic Health Initiatives could not make such an argument.

But Democrats and those opposed to Joshi's bill say there's a different, less controversial way to achieve the same end -- at least when it comes to criminal cases. Foote and Levy's bill has not yet been assigned to a committee. Stay tuned for updates.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Fetus = person? District court judges have come to different conclusions."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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