Colorado Lacks Law for Justice for Mother, Baby in Hit and Run

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 23, 2010   |   5:34PM   |   Denver, CO

Legislators in Colorado may look to change state law to provide protection and justice for women and their unborn children who are victims of violent crimes.

On December 9, a pregnant Laurie Gorham was the victim of an unsolved hit and run in Stapleton that took the life of her unborn child and left her critically injured. Gorham has since had a number of surgeries but her unborn baby was not able to survive the accident.

Should authorities apprehend the person responsible for causing the accident, the culprit would be held accountable under state law for the injuries Gorham sustained but not for the death of her baby. That’s because Colorado is not one of 36 states that have approved an unborn victims law that holds criminals accountable for killing or injuring an unborn child in a crime committed outside the context of abortion.

William Frankfurt of the Frankfurt & Trani law firm told 7News that “There’s no provision in the law for that.”

“There’s a specific definition where the law defines a homicide as the killing of another person and it specifically states that the other person has to be alive at the time of the act,” Frankfurt said. “In Colorado, the fetus doesn’t have legal status.”

Meanwhile, Gorham has finally left the hospital and her family says she wants whoever was responsible apprehended.

“[Laurie] doesn’t remember much about the vehicle,” her father Mark Gorham told 9NEWS. “She doesn’t know if it [the driver] was a male or a female.”

“We’re not sure what thoughts went through a person’s head when they did this,” Mark Gorham said. “But we need to get this person off the streets.”

In the last legislative session, Representative Laura Bradford and other lawmakers introduced a bill that would have helped in Gorham’s situation, but the legislation only defined an unborn child as worthy of protecting beginning at the 16th week of pregnancy. Unborn children victimized in similar cases who were younger than that would not be protected or receive justice under the legislation.

Senator Schultheis introduced a bill in the Senate with other lawmakers that would create the crime of killing an unborn child, which would apply to all unborn children throughout pregnancy, but would not cover cases in which unborn children are injured and survive the crime.

Congress passed the  federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act in 2004  — a law that makes it so criminals are held accountable for killing both mother and child in an attack on the pregnant mother. The federal law is invoked when those acts take place within the context of a federal crime or in a federal jurisdiction such as a military base, national park, or an Indian reservation.

Congress approved the bill after national attention was paid to the deaths of Laci and Conner Peterson. The California mother and her eight-month-old unborn child were killed just before Christmas and their bodies were dumped in San Francisco Bay.

Scott Peterson, Laci’s husband, was convicted under California’s state version of the unborn victims bill of two counts of murder and is currently in prison pending an appeal in the case.