Gruesome Colorado Murders Renew Debate Over Fetal Homicide Laws

Brittany M. Hughes | August 21, 2018
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Colorado is facing a bit of a conundrum – and for once, it’s not over whether to force a Christian baker to make a cake for two dudes’ wedding.

This time, the state is trying to figure out whether to treat murdering an unborn child as a homicide, given society’s pathetic and near-total unwillingness to define when a scientifically provable human child is, legally, a person.

Here's the nutshell. Chris Watts has been charged nine felony counts of first-degree murder after prosecutors say he killed his two daughters and his pregnant wife, dumping his kids’ bodies in two separate oil tanks and burying 34-year-old Shanann Watts' body nearby. 

Watts, on the other hand, claims he strangled his wife to death after he saw her on a baby monitor choking their three-year-old daughter.

But thanks to Colorado’s lack of fetal homicide laws, the couple's third child, an unborn son, may not get justice for his own death. Attorneys argue that while Colorado does have some laws that up the penalty for assaulting or killing a woman the assailant knows is pregnant, there are no rules on the books that allow for charging a person with a separate murder for the death of the child. Instead, prosecutors have resorted to charging Watts with unlawful termination of a pregnancy (as opposed to the kind in which a woman terminates a child of her own free will, which is apparently A-OK).

The discrepancy has sparked a renewed debate over whether Colorado should adopt fetal homicide laws – a move 38 other states have already made. Under current state law, a baby must have lived outside of its mother before being murdered in order to qualify as a separate victim.

Of course, changing the law to include fetal homicide puts Colorado in a logical pickle. Right now, Colorado has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the country, even with its relative lack of abortion clinics. Women in Colorado can obtain abortions on demand up to 26 weeks into their pregnancy. In the case of a fetal "anomaly," like Down syndrome, a woman can voluntarily abort her baby through 34 weeks -- even without telling her spouse.

And, frankly, qualifying a 20-week-old unborn baby as a "child" if it's murdered by its dad and a disposable "clump of cells" if it's killed in an abortion clinic just makes the kind of sense that...well, doesn't.

This isn't the first time the state has struggled with how to handle the murder of an unborn child. Back in 2015, a woman named Dynel Lane was famously charged with attempted murder after cutting an unborn child out of its mother’s stomach, killing the baby. Even still, prosecutors were unable to charge Lane with anything other than attempted murder of the woman, saying the unborn child never actually lived outside the womb.

Of course, this whole debate could be easily avoided if states laws – and society at large – simply acknowledged what science has already long proven: that unborn children at any stage are distinct human beings with their own inherent worth and dignity.

But then, that would get in the way of state-sanctioned homicide, wouldn't it?

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