DENVER (AP) — A woman accused of cutting into the belly of an expectant mother to claim the unborn child can't be charged under Colorado law with murder. But Republicans in the state Senate advanced a bill Wednesday aimed at changing that situation.
Republicans have drafted a proposal that would make killing a fetus a homicide in certain cases, setting up a debate over whether the measure will interfere with abortion rights.
The GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee, which considered the proposal, gave initial approval to it on a 3-2 party-line vote, sending to the full chamber for consideration. But while the bill is expected to clear the Senate, it's likely to fail in the House, where Democrats who oppose it are in control.
"It's to take the rights away from women, not to help us," said Dr. Rebecca Cohen, a gynecologist who testified against the bill.
Republicans, however, say it's unacceptable that Colorado is among a few states that don't have a fetal homicide law. "It's very frustrating to me that 38 states have dealt with this and have done the right thing and we have not," said former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican.
The bill comes after the attack last month on a Longmont, Colorado, woman who was 8-months pregnant and responding to a Craigslist ad for baby clothes. Dynel Lane faces several charges that together could land her in prison for more than 100 years.
Prosecutors have said they couldn't pursue a murder charge because a medical examiner found no evidence the infant was alive outside the womb. Lane instead faces an unlawful termination of a pregnancy charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 32 years in prison.
Supporters of the plan say that's not good enough, noting that homicide convictions can bring the death penalty.
"This was a child. This child was murdered," Republican Senate President Bill Cadman said in a statement.
Lane has been in custody since her arrest and hasn't entered a plea. Her attorney hasn't commented on the charges.
The victim, Michelle Wilkins, survived and has said an outpouring of prayers and positive thoughts have "been deeply felt."
Colorado lawmakers have tried to address this in the past. Such discussions, however, have ended without agreement on how to pass such a law without infringing on abortion rights by extending certain protections to unborn children.
The unlawful termination of a pregnancy statute went into law two years ago as compromise.
Republicans insist the new proposal won't interfere with abortion rights because it wouldn't apply to requested medical procedures or legal prescriptions.
Democratic opponents aren't convinced.
House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst said the bill "creates a charge of murder for an unborn child, and that unborn child is defined as at conception. That is not an unborn child."
Colorado voters rejected a fetal homicide law on ballots last year.
But Cadman, the bill's sponsor, said the proposal will fix an important problem. "That Coloradans have no way to hold the murderer responsible, or deliver justice for the victims, is a gap in Colorado's justice system which can no longer be ignored," he said.