Foetal homicide debate back in spotlight

The case of a Colorado woman accused of cutting open the belly of a pregnant woman and removing her baby girl is reviving the highly-charged debate over when a foetus can legally be considered a human being.

In the past two years, Colorado twice rejected efforts to make the death of a foetus a homicide. The Democratic-led Legislature voted down a bill in 2013, and 65% of voters rejected a ballot measure last year that would have granted legal rights to unborn foetuses, 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 foetuses — 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 foetus.

Stan Garnett, the district attorney of liberal Boulder County, said it is challenging to file homicide charges when foetuses 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, president of Personhood USA, the anti-abortion group that spearheaded the push for Colorado’s foetal homicide laws.

The abortion debate has hung over the increasing number of states that have made killing a foetus 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.

The key issue in the current case will be whether the foetus 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, Lane’s defence attorney, Kathryn Herold, requested a defence expert be present during the autopsy.

“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 on 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.

Lane and her former husband lost a 19-month-old boy in a drowning accident in 2002.

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