DENVER (AP) – Crimes against pregnant women would be punished with a new statute that got initial approval from Colorado lawmakers Tuesday, a proposal from Democrats that counters previously rejected measures from Republicans to address the issue.

The debate over punishment for killing a pregnant woman’s child has sparked fervent discussion from both sides of the abortion debate. Lawmakers say they’re trying to avoid a fight over abortion, and focus on creating a new law to properly punish crimes against pregnant women.

Democrats have argued the Republican proposals create a route to ban or restrict abortions, but GOP lawmakers insist that’s not the case.

The House Judiciary Committee gave initial approval to the new proposal from Democrats on a 10-1 vote, although Republicans said they still had concerns about the bill.

The proposal would create new felony charges for unlawful termination of a pregnancy.

Most states have laws specifically dealing with how to punish people who harm pregnant women, resulting in the loss of a fetus. Currently in Colorado, crimes against pregnant women can trigger an enhanced sentence, and it can also be used as an aggravating factor in deciding whether to sentence someone for life or to death row.

But lawmakers want there to be a separate charge. How to accomplish that is where it gets tricky.

“If we continue to deadlock with this bill, and don’t pass anything, then we’re not protecting women,” said Boulder Rep. Claire Levy, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Bob Gardner said he was reluctantly voting yes on the Democrats’ bill.

“I certainly want to see crimes against pregnant women properly prosecuted,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t want to by legislative declaration somehow lead the people of Colorado to think that we are declaring that a fetus is never, ever entitled to status, even up until the moment of their birth.”

Levy said previous Republican measures that failed, including one this year, “are pretty blatantly backdoor routes to personhood,” meaning recognizing an embryo or fetus as a person. Levy said the Democrats’ bill focuses on punishing the crime against the woman, and treating her as the victim.

Democratic Rep. Mike Foote, a lawmaker from Lafayette who is co-sponsoring the bill, said the goal is to give prosecutors a tool they don’t currently have.

“Most importantly it would allow the victims of these particular crimes to have some measure of justice and not be told that what’s happened to you is unfortunate, but there can be no real accountability of the offender,” he said.

The bill would also repeal the state’s criminal abortion statutes, something that concerns anti-abortion groups. The state Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that those statues are unconstitutional, but they remain in the books until the Legislature decides to delete them.

Nicolle Martin, an attorney for Colorado Family Action, questioned lawmakers why they were including that provision in the bill if their goal was simply to address crimes against pregnant women. Martin also said the bill fails to recognize unborn children as victims of crimes.

LINK: Read The Bill

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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