I’ve just read a news report of a sickening crime:
Days ago, [Dynel] Lane committed a horrific crime against young mother, Michelle Wilkins, by stabbing her nearly to death and cutting her 7-month-old preborn baby out of her womb. She then kidnapped the baby who died hours later.
The focus of the report is on the fact that the District Attorney, Stan Garnett, will not be charging Lane with the murder of the baby.
Though this seems shocking – Lane’s violent actions led directly to the death of an otherwise healthy child – it is completely consistent with the law of that state:
Under Colorado law, there’s no way murder charges can be brought if it is not established that the fetus lived as a child outside the body of the mother for some period of time.1
Yet that law itself is logically inconsistent, since between 26 and 34 weeks abortion is only permitted “for conditions such as fetal anomalies, genetic disorder, fetal demise and/or or severe medical problems.”2 So it is not legal to abort a healthy child after 26 weeks’ gestation, but neither do violent, invasive actions leading to the child’s death constitute murder.
Why? Because this state at least holds to the notion that in order to receive the full protections accorded by Human Rights legislation, a being must not simply be human (despite the name), but must be a person.
There is no universally agreed definition of what constitutes a person – it is a live debate, but one that s gaining traction – but in Colorado at least, the law states that you are not a person unless you have “lived as a child outside the body of [your] mother for some period of time”.
How long is that period of time? This baby – named Aurora, by her mother – was reportedly heard to take a breath, but apparently that was not sufficient for Garnett (Note: the report in which Garnett’s words below were originally quoted contains a video which starts automatically and plays the recording of the 911 call made by the mother. It also goes into gruesome detail about the crime – I don’t recommend clicking the link unless you’re of a robust constitution. I wish I hadn’t.):
The definition of “lived as a child” is difficult, too, and whether that means one breath or one hour, Garnett said.
“The Supreme Court and the court of appeals will get to tell us that eventually. The law is not, as in many areas, terribly clear in terms of that,” Garnett said.
And this is precisely the point. Once you discard the notion that a child is created at the moment of conception and begin to quibble about when he or she is really a person, you find yourself tied up in endless knots, with the arbitrary line shifting from place to place and moving over time as technological advances transform our understanding of human development.
Michelle Wilkins’ suffering is unimaginable. She won’t be helped by being told that her child was never really a person.
**Update: Name in final sentence corrected 27/3/15**