A decision not to file murder charges against a woman accused of cutting a seven-month-old fetus from its mother's womb is setting off debates over so-called "fetal homicide laws."
Earlier this month we told you the horrifying story of a woman who lured a pregnant woman to her home with a Craigslist ad for used baby clothing. When she arrived, she was beaten and stabbed. It ended with 34-year-old Dynel Lane cutting 26-year-old Michelle Wilkins' unborn baby from her womb and leaving her there to die. Wilkins didn't die, however. After spending some time in critical condition she was just recently released from the hospital.
According to police, Lane had been telling her family that she was pregnant for some time. When her husband came home he found Lane covered in blood. The baby was in the upstairs bathtub. She told him she had a miscarriage, which is also what she told doctors when she took the baby to the hospital. It didn't survive.
According to District Attorney Stan Garnett, the decision on what charges to file is a tough one, but murder is not an option due to the state of Colorado's fetal homicide laws. In Colorado, a baby must show signs of life outside the womb to be considered a victim in a homicide.
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) March 20, 2015
From The Denver Post:
"Under Colorado law, essentially, there is no way murder charges can be brought if it's not established that the fetus lived as a child outside the body of the mother," he said.
David Beller, a Denver defense attorney, says the charges present a complex legal challenge and deciding which ones to file is "incredibly complicated."
"In my experience, doctors (can) tell pretty readily whether or not the baby actually took a breath and if the lungs expanded," he said. "I think the legal questions are going to turn to her conduct after the fact."
Beller said that "multiple issues" were likely at play in deciding what charges to file. He added that while there is a great deal of legal precedent in fetal death cases, there isn't much that equates to last week's case.
There are 37 states that label the killing of a fetus as homicide in some cases. Twenty nine of those offer full coverage to the unborn through all periods of pre-natal development. Eight offer partial coverage – depending on the stage of development. Colorado is not one of those states.
What Colorado does have on the books are laws that make the intentional killing of a pregnant woman an aggravating factor, as well as those that "specify that a court shall sentence a defendant convicted of committing specified offenses against a pregnant woman, if the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was pregnant, to a term of at least the midpoint, but not more than twice the maximum, of the presumptive range for the punishment of the offense" and "establishing that a court shall sentence a defendant convicted of assault in the third degree to a term of imprisonment of at least six months, but not longer than the maximum sentence authorized for the offense, if the victim of the assault was a pregnant woman and the defendant knew or should have known that the victim was pregnant."
— Denver News Now (@denvernewsnow) March 27, 2015
For pro-choicers, fetal homicide laws represent a slippery slope to curtailing abortion rights.
For the pro-lifers, this tragic case is an example of the need for such laws and many blame the other side for interfering in their passage.
— Andrew Bair (@ProLifePolitics) March 20, 2015
This is already political, but it's probably best to think about the human consequences first. A woman is lucky to be alive and now has to deal with one of the most traumatic experiences one can imagine for the rest of her life.