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15 February 2011

'Unlawful Termination of a Pregnancy'

By Ari

An odd Associated Press story published by today's Denver Post discusses a new bill to make the "unlawful termination of a pregnancy" a felony. What is odd about it is that Colorado statutes already make that a felony. Given the AP reporter didn't review the differences between existing statutes and the new bill, I'll go ahead and do it.

Linked through the Colorado legislature page are the Colorado Revised Statutes. Following are the relevant statutes already on the books:

18-3.5-101. Unlawful termination of pregnancy.

(1) A person commits the offense of unlawful termination of a pregnancy if, with intent to terminate unlawfully the pregnancy of another person, the person unlawfully terminates the other person's pregnancy.

(2) Unlawful termination of a pregnancy is a class 4 felony.

18-3.5-102. Exclusions.

Nothing in this article shall permit the prosecution of a person for providing medical treatment, including but not limited to an abortion, in utero treatment, or treatment resulting in live birth, to a pregnant woman for which the consent of the pregnant woman, or a person authorized by law to act on her behalf, has been obtained or for which consent is implied by law.

Last year a Mesa County court sentenced a man to five years in prison for this crime, the Daily Sentinel reported.

So how is the new bill, 1256, introduced February 11, different? Mainly, it is much more complicated. It defines "unlawful termination of a pregnancy" from the first through fourth degrees. It also defines "vehicular unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and aggravated vehicular unlawful termination of a pregnancy."

While the bill improperly refers to "unborn children," thereby obscuring the very large difference between a born child and a fetus, it "does not confer the status of 'person' upon a human embryo, fetus, or unborn child at any stage of development prior to live birth."

It does make sense to increase the criminal penalties for deliberation and intent, as well as to criminalize reckless acts that cause the death of a fetus.

However, the sections pertaining to vehicles -- which constitute the bulk of the bill -- seem redundant; it shouldn't matter in law whether somebody kills a woman's fetus by recklessly driving a vehicle or through some other means. Notably, the sections pertaining to vehicles also include a lot of detail about driving under the influence of various substances, also unnecessary for this law. Obviously if someone is driving drunk, that is an instance of the broader category of reckless behavior.

In sum, this is a good bill overall that needs some amending. Specifically, the ambiguous, non-objective language about an "unborn child" should be removed, as should all the material specific to vehicles and operating vehicles under the influence of drugs. The legislature should strive to keep bills as short and simple as possible. However, because existing statutes on the matter are imprecise and don't allow for varying degrees of offense, the new bill (unlike most of the bills floating through the legislature) serves a legitimate purpose of protecting the rights of pregnant women.

This article originally was published on Ari Armstrong's blog.

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