Slain wife's fetus not a murder victim under Colorado law: report

The arrest of a Colorado man who stands accused of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters has reignited a debate in the state on fetal homicide laws.

Christopher Watts, 33, was arrested in Frederick, Colo., Wednesday night after authorities found the body of his wife, Shanann Watts, 34, on property owned by Anadarko Petroleum, where he worked.

Prosecutors said Thursday they believe Watts committed the murder at the family’s residence. Thursday evening, town officials said authorities had found two bodies “whom (they) have strong reason to believe” are the Watts' 3- and 4-year-old daughters.

Watts is expected to be formally charged Monday on three counts of first-degree murder and three charges of tampering with physical evidence, but faces no murder charge for the death of the couple’s unborn child, Denver's FOX 31 reported.

While Colorado does increase penalties for crimes committed against pregnant women, it does not confer “personhood” status on an unborn fetus.

Under Colorado law, a person can be charged with fetal homicide only if it can be proven that the baby could survive outside the womb.

In 2015, a woman in Longmont, Colo., was accused of stabbing a pregnant woman in the stomach and removing her baby. The woman was not charged with murder per Colorado’s laws regarding fetal personhood, the Durango Herald reported.

Colorado lawmakers subsequently tried and failed to change state laws regarding fetal homicide. A proposed measure, Senate Bill 268, would have made the killing of a fetus a homicide except in certain circumstances. The bill was largely supported by Republicans but opposed by Democrats on the grounds that it threatened abortion rights.

At the time, Planned Parenthood called the bill, “dangerous for women,” and accused its backers of “ignoring the values and will of Colorado voters.”

There are currently 38 states that have fetal homicide laws.