A public outcry over the violent attack of a Longmont woman and gruesome homicide of her unborn baby is driving lawmakers and the community to seek justice for the 7-month-old girl’s life.
A Boulder district attorney’s decision not to charge 34-year-old suspect Dynel Catrece Lane with the murder of Michelle Wilkins’s baby Aurora last month—a move Archbishop Samuel Aquila called a “travesty of justice”—prompted the community to rectify an absence of laws recognizing the unborn as victims of homicide.
Parishioners are urged to contact lawmakers in support of the fetal homicide bill, Senate Bill 268, which would allow perpetrators like Lane to be brought justice for the killing of innocent life. The legislation passed a Senate committee April 22.
Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, said it’s reprehensible that the law doesn’t recognize two victims in the Longmont attack.
“I don’t think anyone regardless of what type of political spectrum they may be on, can look at that situation and say that Aurora was not a victim of a crime,” Kraska said. “Yet in Colorado our law does not recognize Aurora as a victim of any crime. We really need people to step up on this and make sure that they know that this is an area of law where a lot of people can come together and really say this is something we should pass.”
Sen. Bill Cadman, R-El Paso, has joined other lawmakers in proposing Senate Bill 268 that would include every unborn child from conception to live birth for homicide or assault offenses.
The bill came a month after Wilkins, 26, survived an alleged attack by Lane, but her baby, who was cut and removed from her womb, did not. District Attorney Stanley Garnett filed eight felony charges against Lane, but said she would not face murder charges because Wilkins’ unborn baby did not live outside the womb.
“We all grieved with Michelle Wilkins when we heard about the brutal manner in which her 7-month-old unborn child was stolen from her womb,” Karna Swanson, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Denver, wrote in an email April 15. “Then when Dynel Lane was not charged with homicide for the subsequent death of Baby Aurora, we couldn’t believe that Colorado law doesn’t recognize the unborn child as a separate victim.”
She added that parishioners have a chance to make a difference, to inform family and friends about the bill and change the law to recognize an assault on innocent life.
Currently, state law defines the victim of a homicide as a human being who had been born and was alive at the time of the crime. Cadman’s bill would affirm unborn life by changing the definition of possible victims to “an unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth.”
In an April 16 editorial, the Denver Post supported the bill calling it inequitable that an attacker who kills a fetus “faces a substantially lesser charge than if the child had been killed one minute after being born.”
Abortion-rights groups, including Planned Parenthood and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, oppose the bill arguing it would victimize pregnant women.
An example brought by opponents is the case of Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indiana woman recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for felony neglect and “feticide.” Patel claimed she had a miscarriage late in her pregnancy and threw her baby in a dumpster. However, prosecutors said she attempted her own abortion and a doctor testified the 30-week-old baby probably could have survived after birth.
“That’s just scare tactics,” Kraska said about building fear. “It’s unfortunate they would sink to that level.”
She said the purpose of the fetal homicide bill is to allow district attorneys to have the option to recognize unborn victims.
“We don’t get to determine or dictate as a state what charges will be brought up against anyone. That’s up to a district attorney,” Kraska said.
Opponents also suggested the bill would open the door to a ban on abortion in the state. However, the bill’s language specifically gives exceptions to acts committed by “the mother of her unborn child,” for “a medical procedure performed by a physician or other licensed medical professional at the request of a mother of her unborn child or the mother’s legal guardian,” and for “the lawful dispensation or administration of lawfully prescribed medication.”
“There ought to be a way to revise Colorado law so someone with ill intent who kills an unborn child can be charged with a crime equivalent to homicide without infringing on abortion rights,” the editorial board wrote. “And abortion proponents, rather than merely complain about Cadman’s bill, should devise a plan that would accomplish this goal.”
Kraska said the fetal homicide bill is not an attempt to change abortion laws.
“The Church remains steadfast in its hope that someday that’s not the case,” Kraska said about legalized abortion. “But this bill isn’t going to be the way that changes. In the meantime, this is a step that recognizes something that is long overdue in Colorado. And that in these certain tragedies, when these really horrific crimes are committed, there often is another victim and that victim should be given justice.”
She added that Colorado is the minority compared to 37 other states and the federal government that passed fetal homicide laws, which do not include personhood laws.
“That’s just intellectually dishonest,” Kraska said about opponents who argue the bill is about personhood. “It’s spreading untruth in a way that I think is somewhat reprehensible. Anybody who looks at personhood amendments and in the past that has been run, and then look at this bill, they’ll see they’re markedly different just on their face and how they’re written.”
Colorado Right to Life, a fervent supporter of personhood amendments, is also stating its opposition to the fetal homicide bill. The personhood movement has attempted to run personhood legislation in a few states—Georgia, North Dakota and Mississippi—that already have fetal homicide laws enacted.
Parishioners are encouraged to make their voices heard on the bill to help bring justice for defenseless unborn victims.
“I don’t think that anybody wants to look another mother in the face or another family in the face ever and tell them that the perpetrator of a crime won’t be charged with a crime against their child,” Kraska said.
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