Abortion and reproductive rights are never far from the nerve in Colorado, where party affiliation is roughly even between Democrats and Republicans and statewide contests often come down to the votes of suburban women who belong to neither party.
Last year a pregnant woman close to giving birth was gruesomely attacked with a knife. Dynel Lane lured 26-year-old mother-to-be Michelle Wilkins to her home last March with a Craigslist ad offering baby clothes. Lane then beat and stabbed Wilkins and cut out her 34-week-old unborn baby.
That event spawned House Bill 1007 this session, which according to its all-Republican sponsors, will make killing a fetus eligible for a homicide charge.
Republicans in the House who are sponsoring the legislation “concerning offenses against unborn children” said existing Colorado law falls short of protecting babies in the womb.
They cite Boulder County’s difficulty with bringing murder charges against Lane under Colorado law unless investigators can prove the baby was alive outside the mother’s body.
Right now Lane faces one charge of first-degree attempted murder, two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of second-degree assault.
“This bill is very straightforward,” said state Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, one of the bill’s sponsors. “It allows for the prosecutor to prosecute the individual who kills the unborn. After last year’s horrific incident in Longmont where a baby was cut from the womb of the mother and later died, this bill would allow for the prosecutor to have the option of prosecuting that disgusting act as a homicide.”
State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs, who is also a sponsor on the bill, said if anything, HB1007 doesn’t go far enough.
“The goal of the bill, which does not mention abortion, does not regulate Planned Parenthood or any abortion provider,” he said. He said the bill only applies to criminals who assault pregnant women. “It does not prohibit abortion, it does not charge abortion doctors with any kind of crime,” he said.
The fetal homicide bill is just one of several that Republican state lawmakers are introducing this session related to the issue. Others aim for an outright ban on abortions.
Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said the bill sponsors for HB1007 are simply using veiled tactics to pass a ‘personhood’ law in Colorado, which she said would ban all abortions and many forms of birth control.
“The alleged assailant in the Longmont case already faces multiple felonies and more than 100 years behind bars due to Colorado’s Unlawful Termination of Pregnancy Law passed in 2013,” Middleton said. “This law carefully balanced the rights of a woman who has lost a wanted pregnancy without introducing unconstitutional Personhood into statute.”
Colorado voters have previously rejected three ballot measures aimed at extending personhood rights to fetuses.
HB1007, which has been assigned to the state House Business Affairs and Labor committee, has not yet been scheduled.
“Colorado is a pro-choice state that supports the personal decision to have an abortion,” Middleton said. She said bills such as HB1007 are an offense to long-standing Colorado values of privacy and individual liberty. “And they will be defeated. Again,” she said.
State Democrats, meanwhile, will be defending a plan by the Democratic administration to use tax money to increase teenagers’ access to long-acting reversible contraception such as intrauterine devices. Top lawmakers have made clear that they’re digging in their heels on the topic. Democratic House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst said in her opening-day remarks that Democrats would block any attempts to ratchet back reproductive rights.
“We will defeat these ideologues and opportunists,” she said of abortion opponents.
Most Colorado lawmakers in both parties would prefer to stop bickering over abortion rights. But with the state so divided politically, the Legislature this term will often turn into a proxy fight for votes based on abortion and reproductive rights.
“There are pockets of Colorado where a majority of constituents … are very much in favor of limiting women’s reproductive choices,” said Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village. “It’s not going to go away.”
Women’s reproductive rights are playing out in a pitched congressional contest, too. Democrats are trying to oust U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, who joined Republican colleagues last year and voted to defund Planned Parenthood.
Democratic contender Morgan Carroll, who is challenging Coffman in the 6th Congressional District race, called his Planned Parenthood vote “appalling.”
Democrats have also jumped on the results of a Houston grand jury investigation of the undercover footage of Planned Parenthood that found no wrongdoing by the abortion provider.
David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs. Another activist, Sandra Merritt, was also indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record.
Carroll on Tuesday criticized Coffman’s stance on Planned Parenthood, calling the Colorado Springs siege “a direct result of dangerous and irresponsible rhetoric.
“Those that supported the fraudulent videos have created an environment of hatred that invites hate crimes,” Carroll said in a statement. “We need leadership in our Congress that will support a woman’s privacy and basic right to make her own healthcare decisions instead of spreading non-sense that has now cost people their lives.”
Cinamon Watson, a spokeswoman for Coffman, did not respond directly to whether Coffman supports the actions of the indicted Center for Medical Progress employees.
“Do we have a comment? No, except that this is the same tired, partisan playbook we saw from (Nancy) Pelosi in 2014 and 2012 and 2010,” she said.
— Sentinel reporter Rachel Sapin contributed to this story.