Fetus debate looms following charges in womb-cutting case

This undated booking photo provided by the Longmont Police Department shows Dynel Lyne, 34, who is accused of stabbing a pregnant woman in the stomach and removing her baby, while the expectant mother visited her home to buy baby clothes advertised on Craigslist authorities said. The 26-year-old expectant mother was found beaten and stabbed at the suspect's home, has undergone surgery, and on Thursday was alert, police said. The baby did not survive. (AP Photo/ Longmont Police Department)

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Republicans on Friday vowed to reopen a charged debate over a fetus’ legal rights after prosecutors said they could not file homicide charges against a woman who allegedly cut an unborn child from her mother’s belly.

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett said he could not pursue a murder charge against Dynel Lane because the coroner found no evidence the baby was alive outside the womb.

“On this point, Colorado law is absolutely unambiguous,” he said.

Prosecutors say Lane lured Michelle Wilkins to her home last week with a Craigslist ad for baby clothes and attacked the 8-month-pregnant woman, cutting the baby girl from her belly.

Wilkins, 26, survived and was released from a hospital Wednesday.

Michelle Wilkins
PHOTO: Michelle Wilkins is seen in the undated photo posted to Facebook.

On Friday, Lane was charged with attempted first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and unlawful termination of a pregnancy. She could face more than 100 years in prison if convicted, Garnett said.

The unlawful termination charge was filed under a new law intended to be a compromise between opponents and supporters of abortion rights. The maximum punishment for the felony is 32 years in prison, while a person convicted of homicide in the state could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Colorado has twice rejected proposals that would make the violent death of an unborn child a homicide, fearing they could interfere with abortion rights.

State Senate President Bill Cadman announced Friday that Republicans would try for the third time to get such a measure passed.

“This was a child. A child was murdered,” he said in statement. “That Coloradans have no way to hold the murderer responsible, or deliver justice for the victims, is a gap in Colorado’s justice system which can no longer be ignored.”

At least 38 states have so-called fetal homicide laws.

State Rep. Mike Foote, a Democrat and Boulder prosecutor who wrote the 2013 law creating the crime of an unlawful termination of pregnancy, contended that bill effectively gives Colorado a fetal homicide law.

He noted many states have different penalties for fetal homicide and first-degree murder.

“We provided law enforcement and the courts the tools to provide justice in these types of cases,” Foote said. “This is a separate charge. It can be separately sentenced, and it acknowledges the loss that has occurred.”

Wilkins’ family said in a statement they were aware of the charges and grateful for thoughts and prayers for her recovery.

The charges came the same week California authorities arrested a woman they say masterminded a plot to kill mothers and steal their babies to pass off as her own after telling her married boyfriend she gave birth to his twins.

In the Colorado case, Garnett said investigators found no evidence the baby ever took a breath.

Under state law, a person can face a murder charge in the death of a fetus only if there is evidence it survived apart from its mother.

Outside the Boulder courthouse where Garnett spoke to reporters, about a dozen demonstrators marched to show their support for a fetal homicide law.

“It is terrible to think that that’s the springboard, but when are people going to open their eyes and come to terms with the fact that these babies need to be recognized as an equal victim to the mom?” said Susan Sutherland, vice president of Colorado Right to Life.

The attack already has roiled state politics, with one Republican lawmaker calling it a “curse from God” for the country’s tolerance of abortion.

Several other Republicans have criticized those comments. On Friday, the administrator of a fund for donations to help Wilkins announced a $1,000 donation from the lawmaker, Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt.

Foote said he was distressed at how the case has polarized the state.

“It’s unfortunate some groups will be using this for political purposes,” he said.

Associated Press writers Ivan Moreno and Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report.

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