A new crime of “fetal homicide” is on hold in Colorado amid concerns the proposal was vague and could affect abortion rights.
The Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee tabled the bill Monday, just before it appeared the committee would reject the measure. The bill was approved last month by the Republican House.
Similar bills have been defeated in years past because current Colorado criminal law already enhances penalties for violent crimes when the victims are pregnant.
Some abortion supporters said current law is adequate, and that a “fetal homicide” law would give unborn fetuses the status of being a person.
Kevin Paul, an attorney representing Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the fetal homicide law “fundamentally challenges the right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy.”
Abortion opponents disagreed, saying the law would be carefully tailored to protect abortion rights.
“We feel like this bill is abortion-neutral,” said Leslie Hanks of Colorado Right to Life.
Senators couldn’t decide the question, either. The Republican sponsor of the measure, Sen. Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield, requested the bill be tabled for further discussions with Democrats who raised questions. Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora said she wanted to study other state laws on fetal homicide more closely.
The prospects for the bill seem dim in Colorado’s divided Legislature, however. One of the questions raised Monday was whether a pregnant woman would be guilty of fetal homicide if she caused her own miscarriage through an illegal act, such as drug use or reckless driving.
Senators changed the bill to clarify the crime would not apply to pregnant women and their own fetuses. They also haggled for hours over whether one could be charged for killing a fetus if the person didn’t know a woman was pregnant.
Such confusion prompted the Colorado Bar Association to oppose the measure.
“The bill doesn’t give us the guidance that we feel is constitutionally required,” Tim Quinn of the lawyers’ group testified.
Mitchell vowed to keep working to find a compromise.
“I know there’s an array of opposition that say this is an abortion bill,” Mitchell said. “It is not.”