CHEYENNE - Some Wyoming lawmakers want to increase the penalty for anyone who intentionally kills a pregnant woman.
The new bill is slightly different from a bill that passed both houses of the Wyoming Legislature two years ago only to be vetoed by Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
The 2007 bill would have allowed two separate counts of homicide to be filed against someone who killed a pregnant woman and her fetus. That bill was sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who was then a state senator from Casper.
Freudenthal vetoed Barrasso's bill, saying that it would needlessly embroil the state in the national debate over abortion. Freudenthal said that Wyoming law, which can impose the death penalty for premeditated murder, already served to protect women in the state.
This year's bill, House Bill 123, would only increase the penalty for killing a pregnant woman, and not impose an extra penalty specifically for killing her fetus.
The bill states that in addition to any basic penalty imposed for homicide, anyone who willfully kills a woman who is pregnant can also face an additional penalty of 20 years to life in prison for causing the termination of her pregnancy.
Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper, is among the sponsors of this year's bill.
"Just a couple of years ago, Sen. Barrasso's bill passed both houses, and the governor had some problems with it and vetoed it after we left town," Jennings said. "We feel like we fixed the problems, and he should haven't any difficulty signing it. We're just kind of picking up old business and finishing it."
Jennings said the bill has nothing to do with abortion.
"There are times when a young lady will announce to her boyfriend or whatever that she's pregnant, and he ends up killing them both," Jennings said. "And he wouldn't have killed her if there hadn't been another person there. If you're going to kill one, you're going to kill two - you ought to be punished for killing two."
Jennings said he hopes that passing the bill would be a deterrent to anyone considering killing a pregnant woman. He said he expects that the bill will once again pass through the Legislature.
Sharon Breitweiser, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, said her group believes that the new bill is unnecessary. However, she said, "in the spirit of compromise, we will remain neutral - as long as the bill could not be interpreted to confer fetal personhood status."
Breitweiser's group opposed Barrasso's bill two years ago. However, she said her group is satisfied that the new bill would only enhance the penalty for the crime against a pregnant woman and not create a new penalty for a crime against the unborn child.
"We think the intent is the same; we think that it's unnecessary given the current statutes," Breitweiser said.
"All of the sponsors of the bills are and have been the same people who virulently oppose abortion rights and believe that life begins at conception, so I think it's no coincidence that they're the same ones on a bill like this," Breitweiser said. "As I said, we clearly believe that it's unnecessary given the statutes on death penalties for premeditated murder and enhanced penalties for assaults on pregnant women."
Wyoming law on aggravated assault and battery already prohibits anyone from intentionally causing bodily injury to a woman he or she knows is pregnant.