A question remained for some after a Colorado woman was sentenced Friday to 100 years in prison for cutting a fetus from a pregnant person: Was her punishment sufficient?
But because the statute does not give “personhood” legal standing to a fetus, prosecutors could not bring murder charges and possibly the death penalty against Lane, who destroyed Wilkins’ fetus.
Pro-choice advocates say the 2013 law protects the civil rights of pregnant people by shielding them from potentially wrongful prosecution while still subjecting people like Lane to severe sentences, like the 100-year prison term she received.
“Dynel Lane will spend the rest of her life in prison and rightfully so,” Rep. Mike Foote (D-LaFayette) said in an email to Rewire. “I am thankful the legislature passed my Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act in 2013 and that it was used in her prosecution. We gave prosecutors and courts the tools they need to hold criminals accountable while at the same time keeping personhood out of our statutes. I wish this tragic case would have never happened, but I am glad our law was in place when it did.”
But anti-choice activists argue that Lane should have faced murder charges for her violent act.
“Dynel Lane’s sentence reminds us of what we’ve noticed over the years, that those who support abortion typically oppose the death penalty for the guilty yet support the execution of the innocent,” Colorado Right to Life spokesperson Bob Enyart said in an email to Rewire. “We advocate protecting the innocent and executing the guilty.”
Lane lured Wilkins to her home with a Craigslist advertisement for baby clothes. She then beat Wilkins unconscious and reportedly used two knives to remove the fetus.
Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett asked Chief District Judge Maria Berkenkotter for a 118-year sentence, saying, “It won’t bring [Wilkins’ fetus] back, but it will send a message about human life,” according to the Post.
Republican legislators in Colorado have repeatedly advocated for legislation that would give legal rights to a fetus, including a legislative push after Lane attacked Wilkins in 2015.
Democrats defeated the GOP measure, arguing that it could be used to take away abortion rights and to prosecute pregnant people for reckless endangerment, if they damaged a fetus.
Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a 2014 fetal “personhood” initiative that would have given legal standing to fetuses. The measure would have given broad legal rights to fetuses as well—and would have banned legal abortion care in the state.
So-called fetal homicide laws are on the books in 38 states, according to a tally by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLS). Colorado’s law, which does not confer legal rights to a fetus, is among those listed. The NCLS lists 23 states that “have fetal homicide laws that apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy (‘any state of gestation,’ ‘conception,’ ‘fertilization’ or ‘post-fertilization’).”
Wilkins indicated to reporters that she felt justice was achieved in the case after Lane’s conviction in February on all six counts she faced, including multiple felonies.
She called the verdict “a triumph for justice, for Aurora [the name she’d chosen for her fetus], for myself … for the community.”