Schultheis bill on unborn victims of violence dies in committee

By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

A bill that would have made the death of an unborn child as the result of killing the mother a capital offense died a death of its own this week in a legislative committee on grounds that the bill would have attempted to define the controversial topic of when life begins.

Senate Bill 113, sponsored by Sen. David Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, was shot down along party lines in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee.

The legislation was designed to give district attorneys the ability to seek capital punishment for anyone causing the death of a fetus that survives outside the womb, but subsequently dies as a result of the perpetrator’s actions.

“Pregnant women’s relatives should have the right to witness justice for the loss of their daughter and their hopes for an unborn grandchild,” said Schultheis.

Schultheis was careful in framing the legislation as a domestic violence bill and not an anti-abortion bill.

“This bill closes a gap in our law that basically provides immunity to a perpetrator for such a horrible crime,” said committee member Bill Cadman, a Republican senator from Colorado Springs.

Representatives from the Colorado District Attorneys Council testified that district attorneys across Colorado support such a measure. Dan May, 4th Judicial District D.A., brought the issue to Schultheis. He said currently in some trials the fact a victim was pregnant has been ruled irrelevant by the judge, thus affecting the court’s verdict and sentencing.

May said the 2002 Laci Peterson murder brought national attention to this issue. The California woman was eight months pregnant when she disappeared on Christmas Eve. Her husband, Scott Peterson, was convicted on two counts of murder— one for the death of the mother and one for her unborn child. May said currently in Colorado Scott Peterson could only be charged with the murder of Laci Peterson and not her child.

Thirty-seven other states have similar laws that address fetal homicide, according to a press release from the Colorado Senate Republicans. The Laci Peterson case prompted the Federal Government’s Unborn Victims of Violence Act making it a crime to harm a fetus during an assault on the mother.

Attorney Kevin Paul, representing Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, said his organization does not dispute the need to prosecute violent crimes against women to the fullest extent of the law, but said this bill would have opened up a constitutional can of worms.

Paul said the legislation would have legally given a fetus “personhood” status because only people can be murdered. He said that by passing this law the state would have defined life as beginning before birth. In 2008, Colorado turned down Amendment 48 that would have defined a fetus as a person. A similar ballot initiative was deemed insufficient by the Secretary of State Wednesday. Paul also said the bill would have allowed for professional negligence cases to be classified as first-degree murder.

Addie Lord of the ACLU testified that the bill would have created a new capital crime, an area she said the ACLU is generally against broadening. Lord also had concerns that the bill, by assigning rights to a fetus, would cause conflict with the mother’s rights.

Representatives Rollie Heath and Betty Boyd both said they voted against the bill because of concerns of defining personhood.

May said he was disappointed by the committee’s decision.

“Colorado is one of the few states, where if someone intentionally murders a pregnant women killing her and the fetus, that doesn’t call that a double homicide,” said May.

“It is beyond reason that the Democrats would oppose this policy,” Schultheis said in a statement. “This is about violence against pregnant women and their unborn child. It is unconscionable that Democrats, who claim to care so much about others, would not support this bill.”

Colorado Family Action and The Colorado Catholic Conference voiced their support for SB 113.

Voting in favor of the bill were Republican Representatives Bill Cadman and David Schultheis. Democrats Boyd, Heath and Bob Bacon voted against the legislation.

Jimy@coloradostatesman.com