LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) — The gruesome case of a Colorado woman accused of cutting open the belly of a pregnant woman and removing her unborn baby girl is reviving the highly charged debate over when a fetus can legally be considered a human being.
In the past two years, Colorado twice rejected efforts to make the death of a fetus a homicide. The Democratic-led Legislature voted down a bill in 2013, and 65 percent of voters rejected a ballot measure last year that would have granted legal rights to unborn fetuses, the third rejection of a “personhood measure.”
That leaves the state as one of 12 without a law allowing homicide charges in the violent deaths of fetuses — and the fate of Dynel Lane up in the air. Authorities say Lane lured a woman who was nearly eight months pregnant to her home this week by advertising baby clothes on Craigslist. Lane is accused of stabbing the stranger in the belly and removing the fetus.
Stan Garnett, the district attorney of liberal Boulder County, said during a news conference Thursday that Colorado law makes it challenging to file homicide charges when fetuses are killed.
“Under Colorado law, essentially no murder charges can be brought if the child did not live outside of the mother,” Garnett said.
The legal complexity seems unnecessary to some. “It’s literally absurd,” said Keith Mason, the president of Personhood USA, the anti-abortion group that spearheaded the push for Colorado’s fetal homicide laws.
The abortion debate has hung over the increasing number of states that have made killing a fetus a homicide. Abortion opponents have promoted the laws, which have been adopted by 38 states and the federal government to the consternation of many abortion-rights supporters.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said the laws cannot be used against a woman who lawfully terminates her pregnancy.
“Some of them have been in existence for 30 years, and they haven’t had any impact on legal abortions,” he said.
After Colorado Democrats rejected a fetal-homicide bill in 2013, state Rep. Mike Foote authored a measure allowing extra felony charges against anyone who commits a crime causing the death of a fetus. Foote, a Democrat, said the involvement of “personhood” activists in the push for a fetal homicide law makes it impossible for Colorado to implement one without risking lengthy legal fights over abortion.
“The issue we were wrestling with is how you can hold offenders accountable and have some semblance of justice and not interfere with a woman’s reproductive rights,” said Foote, who is also a prosecutor.
Foote and others said the key issues in the current case will be whether the fetus was alive outside the mother and whether the act that led to the unborn baby’s death occurred outside her body. During a brief court hearing Thursday, Lane’s defense attorney, Kathryn Herold, requested a defense expert be present during the autopsy planned for Friday.
“In this particular case, the cause of death is going to be essential,” she said.
Lane went to great lengths to show her family she was pregnant, sharing an ultrasound photo with her daughter, an arrest affidavit says. Her husband told investigators that when he came home early from work Wednesday to meet her for a prenatal appointment, he found her covered in blood and a baby gasping for breath in a bathtub.
Lane told her husband she had a miscarriage, and he took her and the baby to a hospital, where she was arrested on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder and other crimes.
The victim managed to call 911, and police arrived to help her sometime after the couple left. While drifting in and out of consciousness, the 26-year-old woman told police she did not know Lane and went to her house in response to the ad, the affidavit says.
The woman was alert and answering questions Thursday, police said.
Lane and her former husband lost a 19-month-old boy in a drowning accident in 2002. Her then-husband wasn’t home at the time, the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper reported. She and their two daughters, then 5 and 3, searched for the boy until they found him in a fish pond.
He had been playing a game with his sisters while their mother was busy in another part of the house, the newspaper said.
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