Reporters should call bill giving legal rights to fetuses “personhood,” not “fetal homicide”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

In response to the March 18 attack on a pregnant women in Longmont, state Senate Republicans have introduced legislation expanding the definition of “person” in specific state laws, including Colorado’s murder statute, to include an “unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth.”

If that sounds like personhood to you, giving legal rights to zygotes (fertilized eggs), that’s because it is a form of personhood. It establishes the fetus as a person, opening the door to possible bans on abortion and the arrest of pregnant women for crimes (e.g., child abuse) against their own fetus. And that’s what concerns Senate Democrats, who are opposing the legislation and saying Republicans are taking advantage of the horrific crime against Michelle Wilkins to pass personhood legislation.

“I am disappointed that the Republicans are choosing to use what happened to the Wilkins family to get ‘personhood’ into law,” said state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) in a statement after the GOP bill was introduced Tuesday afternoon.

Steadman, along with pro-choice advocates, point out that Colorado’s 2013 law, the “Crimes Against Pregnant Women” act, allows for severe penalties for crimes like the one Wilkins endured, while protecting abortion rights and preventing prosecutors from arresting pregnant women, for example, for abuse of her own fetus–which has been done even in states with laws specifically prohibiting prosecutors from doing this.

“What occurred in Longmont was horrible, and the perpetrator deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, which if found guilty could result in a sentence of over 100 years in prison,” said Steadman. “Using this tragedy to promote new laws that Colorado voters have soundly rejected is out of bounds.”

Reporters should be clear that the bill introduced yesterday and sponsored by state senate Bill Cadman and 14 other Republicans, is a variation of personhood legislation, even though it excludes from prosecution acts “committed by the mother of her unborn child,” “a medical procedure” performed by medical professionals or doctors, or the “administration” of legal medicine.

This vague language, like “medical procedure” puts abortion rights in jeopardy–particularly because the word “abortion” is not mentioned at all in the text of Cadman’s bill.

In contrast, similar laws, like a one in Kentucky, very explicitly exclude the performance of an “abortion” from possible persecution. Kentucky’s law states that prosecution would not be allowed for “any abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman has been obtained or for which the consent is implied by law in a medical emergency.”

So I don’t understand why some personhood activists say the language in Cadman’s bill affirms abortion. It’s too vague to do this.

Even when abortion is specifically excluded from these types of bills, pro-choice advocates say laws like Cadman’s, ironically, tread on the rights of pregnant women.

“Our research shows that in the current U.S. political environment, there is no way to put one of these laws in place without it becoming a tool for controlling and punishing pregnant women themselves,” said Lynn Paltrow, director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

2 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. FrankUnderwood says:

    The Dems need to get in front of this bill. Ten years ago, the GOP thought they had the Dems in legislature over the proverbial barrel with immigration. The Dems managed to co-opt the issue with their own measures.  Not only did the Dem majorities in the legislature survive the ’06 election but with a little help from the GOP’s inept gubernatorial candidate, the Dems took the governorship, too.

    The House Dems need to come up with a bill that is not personhood but can be responsive to what happened in Longmont. Didn’t Pat Steadman sponsor something a couple of years ago dealing with this issue but which didn’t get through because the GOP tried to personhoodize (if that’s word) it?

    • saofner says:

      He did, and it passed.  The provisions of that law are being used as some of the charges against the woman who did this.  According to DA Ganett, if convicted, she will likely die in jail <;. Here is Senator Steadman’s release on this matter:

      Colorado’s current law protects pregnant women from violence and does not punish them.  The law — referred to as “Unlawful Termination of a Pregnancy” — passed in 2013, and it protects pregnant women from prosecution while providing our justice system with proper tools to prosecute individuals that attack pregnant women.  

      “The Senate Democrats want to relay our deepest condolences to Michelle Wilkins and her family.  What occurred in Longmont was horrible, and the perpetrator deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, which if found guilty could result in a sentence of over 100 years in prison.  Using this tragedy to promote new laws that Colorado voters have soundly rejected is out of bounds,” added Sen. Steadman.

      Although it may be attractive to some, murder charges do not deter heinous acts against any man, woman or child. Why would they be more appropriate here than the current charges?  What does an addition of a murder charge do when few, if any, convicted killers are killed in Colorado or even if they were at Texas’ rate?  It does not seem to deter anything, so what more value is it?

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