House approves juvenile justice, fetal homicide measures

Posted on: 2:29 pm, March 16, 2012, by , updated on: 11:37am, March 19, 2012

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DENVER — The GOP-controlled House gave final approval Monday morning to a bill that would make the harming or killing of a fetus a punishable crime, a measure critics say confers “Personhood” status on the unborn and, thus, criminalizes abortion in Colorado.

The 33-32 vote went right down party-lines. The measure faces a tough test in the state Senate, where Democrats hold a 20-15 majority.

Also Monday morning, the House approved a controversial bill that makes significant changes to the state’s juvenile justice system by taking away the ability of Colorado district attorneys to “direct file” juvenile offenders’ cases straight into the adult corrections system..

House Bill 1271, while controversial and opposed by most of the state’s prosecutors, drew bipartisan support in the House, passing third reading Monday morning on a 45-20 vote.

Both bills passed second reading last Friday and were the subject of intense and, at times, emotional debate on the House floor.

Debate over the House Bill 1130, the fetal homicide legislation sponsored by Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, brought several Democratic women to the floor who argued that the bill is part of a larger GOP “war on women.”

“What is this really about?” asked Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. “This bill defines Personhood in statute. We should not be allowing some of the radical views against women — like the radical views conveyed by Rush Limbaugh — Rush Limbaugh should not come between a woman and her views.”

Several Republicans criticized Democrats for blurring the lines of the debate.

“I just don’t see the connection, the outrage, the desperate attempt to draw this conversation to all those other topics that have nothing to do with a one-page bill that says if a child dies from a violent interaction, there would be a second charge,” said Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker.

“It has nothing to do with contraception, nothing to do with a woman’s relationship with her doctor, nothing to do with a woman’s position on choice.”

The bill stems from a December 2010 hit-and-run in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood, where Laura Gorham, then 27 years old and 34 weeks pregnant, was hit in a crosswalk and subsequently lost her unborn child.

Gorham survived, but no charges could have been filed against the driver, had they ever been caught, because Colorado is currently one of just 15 states without a law recognizing an unborn child as a potential victim of a crime.

“This isn’t about protecting pregnant women,” said Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs. “This is about protecting their unborn child. This is about creating criminal code — code that 35 states have — in the state of Colorado.

“This bill is not about abortion, it exempts abortion. This bill is a criminal justice bill that only gives protection to a child that is yet to be born.”

But, Democrats were adamant that the bill would recognize the controversial notion of Personhood, that life begins at conception — a notion voters have twice overwhelmingly rejected when supporters have tried to write it into the state Constitution.

“HB 1130 has far reaching consequences,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. “One consequence will be the definition of Personhood. We do not need this law.”

Rep. Daniel Kagan framed the legal question simply: “How can you commit an offense against the person, defined as ‘an unborn member of the species homo sapiens‘, and not be conferring ‘Personhood’ on this unborn child?”