DENVER (CBS4/AP) - A woman accused of cutting into the belly of an expectant mother to claim the unborn child can't be charged under Colorado law with murder, but legislators in the state Senate will take up a bill Wednesday aimed at changing that.
Republicans have drafted a proposal that would make killing a fetus a homicide in certain cases, setting up a debate over whether the measure will interfere with abortion rights.
The bill comes after the attack last month on a Longmont woman who was 8-months pregnant and responded to a Craigslist ad for baby clothes. Dynel Lane faces several charges that together could land her in prison for more than 100 years.
Prosecutors have said they couldn't pursue a murder charge because a medical examiner found no evidence the infant was alive outside the womb. Lane instead faces an unlawful termination of a pregnancy charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 32 years in prison.
Supporters of the plan in the Senate Judiciary Committee say that's not good enough, noting that homicide convictions can bring the death penalty.
"This was a child. This child was murdered," Republican Senate President Bill Cadman said in a statement.
Cadman said his bill is about justice, about recognizing in cases like Wilkins that there are two victims of violence.
"We have over 60,000 babies born in Colorado every year, they should receive the same protection and justice under Colorado law that they would get in most other states and under federal law," said Cadman.
Lane has been in custody since her arrest and hasn't entered a plea. Her attorney hasn't commented on the charges.
The victim, Michelle Wilkins, survived and has said an outpouring of prayers and positive thoughts have "been deeply felt."
Dozens of other states have laws that could allow for a murder charge in such a case, and Colorado lawmakers have tried to address this in the past. Such discussions, however, have ended without agreement on how to pass such a law without infringing on abortion rights.
The unlawful termination of a pregnancy statute went into law two years ago as compromise.
Republicans say the proposal under consideration Wednesday won't interfere with abortion rights, since it wouldn't apply to requested medical procedures or legal prescriptions.
Democratic opponents aren't convinced.
House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst said the bill "creates a charge of murder for an unborn child, and that unborn child is defined as at conception. That is not an unborn child."
Colorado voters rejected a fetal homicide law on ballots last year, but Cadman, the bill's sponsor, said the proposal will fix an important problem. "That Coloradans have no way to hold the murderer responsible, or deliver justice for the victims, is a gap in Colorado's justice system which can no longer be ignored."
Kevin Paul, Attorney for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the bill is about personhood and the legislation mirrors a federal law that makes it a crime to kill or hurt an unborn child.
"We take the position and have consistently done so that attempting to separate a pregnancy from a woman who carries it for purposes of criminal law or any other is not a good idea. It's the rights of a woman who carries the pregnancy, we have concerns about protecting," said Paul.
- AP Writer Ivan Moreno contributed to this story.
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