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18 March 2011

Anti-Abortion Zealots Kill Fetal Protection Bill

By Ari

You'd think anti-abortion zealots might want to protect fetuses from criminal harm, right? Wrong.

"Right-fringe... abortion extremists" opposed Colorado House Bill 1256, as State Senator Pat Steadman told Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post, causing the bill's sponsors to withdraw the measure concerning fetal protection.

As I've reviewed, Colorado law is deficient in that it criminalizes only intentional termination of a pregnancy (against the woman's wishes). What if, through a criminal or reckless act, somebody unintentionally kills a woman's wanted fetus? That's what happened with the hit-and-run in Denver.

The new bill defined four levels of offense: intentionally killing a fetus after deliberation (against the woman's wishes), intentionally killing a fetus without prior deliberation, recklessly causing the death of a fetus while knowing the woman is pregnant, and recklessly causing the death of a fetus without knowing the woman is pregnant. These basic categories of offense make a lot of sense, which is why I favored the bill (despite some problems with it).

In a subsequent op-ed, I offered the basic theoretical foundation for such a law: "Legal protections for a woman's fetus properly extend from the legal rights of the woman herself."

Why, then, did anti-abortion activists, who claim to want to protect fetuses, oppose the bill? On March 14, the Colorado Catholic Conference sent an action alert via email opposing 1256. This Catholic group offered two main arguments. First, the "bill fails to recognize an unborn child as a separate victim of homicide or assault," as the bill explicitly states that a fetus is not a person under law. Second:

The Colorado Catholic Conference also opposes the fact that this bill seeks to repeal the criminal abortion statute that is still on the books in Colorado. The pro-life community looks forward to the day when Roe vs. Wade is overturned, and there is no benefit to the pro-life community to repeal our criminal abortion statute, even if currently it is not enforceable.

I take it this refers to statutes 18-6-101 through 18-6-105, which bill 1256 would have repealed. Statute 18-6-102 outlaws the ending of a "pregnancy of a woman by any means other than justified medical termination or birth." The key, then, is what constitutes "justified medical termination," which 18-6-101 defines. The measure severely restricts abortion to cases of likely death of the woman, "serious permanent impairment of the physical health of the woman" (including mental health), serious fetal deformity, cases where the woman is under sixteen, rape, and incest.

As I have argued, these statutes seriously violate the rights of pregnant women to get an abortion. But apparently the Colorado Catholic Conference would rather prevent actual laws that protect fetuses from criminal harm, in order to leave unenforceable statutes on the books that outlaw elective abortions.

This is just the latest illustration of how anti-abortion zealots undermine the rights and lives of actual people, in order to maintain the faith-based fantasy that a zygote is a person. So the next time a criminal gets away with killing a woman's fetus, feel free to blame the anti-abortion crusaders who killed bill 1256.

Note: This article originally appeared on Ari Armstrong's blog.

Update: See also the report at BigMedia.org.

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