Senator Ellen Roberts: In defense of vote on fetal homicide bill

Recently, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has attacked me for speaking my mind.

You'd think we'd have some common ground, Planned Parenthood and I, since I'm a woman and I've always supported abortion being legal under settled U.S. Supreme Court case law.

Obviously, as a Republican, this has not been an easy path to be on and has attracted failed primaries against me.

The main thrust of Planned Parenthood's bitterness toward me is that I voted for Senate Bill 268, the fetal homicide bill. According to them, "you cannot support fetal personhood and be pro-choice."

Let's look at the facts. If passed, SB 268 would've given prosecutors the ability to charge an attacker of a pregnant woman with murder if the woman survived the attack, but her unborn child did not. The existing gap in Colorado's criminal laws was made obvious when the Boulder district attorney was unable to charge the attacker with murder of the baby in the horrific Longmont case this spring.

Yet, that case is not the sole reason to seek new law. When hearing SB 268 in Judiciary Committee, we learned that pimps currently can be charged only with assault when they beat their pregnant prostitutes to kill the fetuses and get the women quickly back out on the streets. We also heard prosecutors speak of the high rate of domestic violence acts aimed directly at a woman's pregnancy and causing the death of a fetus, but escaping stronger prosecution.

Unlike the Indiana case repeatedly brought up as a red herring by opponents, this bill language posed no threat of prosecution to a pregnant woman who self-aborts. SB 268 specifically exempted any act committed by the mother of an unborn child. SB 268 specifically exempted any medical procedure by a licensed provider requested by the mother, keeping abortions legal. SB 268 also specifically exempted lawful dispensation of medications such as the morning-after pill.

SB 268 expressly stated that the "person" status is bestowed upon the unborn child only for purposes of the criminal offenses of murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and assault. That "person" status is required to prosecute for homicide. Under SB 268, the limited "person" status applied from conception, which is the case in most of the nearly 40 states that have fetal homicide laws. Similar federal law recognizes the crime of fetal homicide from the time of being in utero; in other words, from conception.

In their personal attacks on me, Planned Parenthood fails to mention that some pro-life groups, including Colorado Right to Life and Personhood USA, (the latter group having sponsored the trio of recent failed personhood initiatives in Colorado), opposed SB 268 because the language protected the continuation of lawful abortions. Despite this, Planned Parenthood insists on calling SB 268 a personhood measure, claiming that it's just like past ballot initiatives that have been voted down by huge margins.

Unlike Planned Parenthood's assertion to the contrary, an intellectually honest legislator could vote for SB 268 and still hold to the principle that abortion in Colorado should remain legal.

What's most disappointing to me is that we're still without a fetal homicide law. With nine years in the state legislature, I've heard the debates and watched the politics surrounding fetal homicide bills numerous times. It's frustrated me that some in this highly charged and emotional debate repeatedly cling to their fears and their talking points, refusing to budge to address the issue at hand.

This year, some of the pro-life groups swallowed hard to support a bill that wasn't all they wanted it to be. They found philosophical room to set aside an all-or-nothing agenda and agreed that it should be a crime to kill an unborn child, without the mother's consent, even if SB 268 preserved the right to legal abortions. I wish I could say the same for Planned Parenthood and its allies, but that they couldn't find the same room wasn't a reason for me to vote no on the bill.

Read Sen. Roberts' article in the Denver Post here.

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