DENVER — More than 1,000 Catholics and other pro-life demonstrators showed up outside the Colorado State Capitol for an April 15 protest of what some were calling the most anything-goes pro-abortion bill in history.

And the initiative paid off, as the Colorado Senate on April 16 killed the controversial bill that could have banned all pro-life laws in the state.

"Lift up your hearts in gratitude to God," said Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila in a post on Twitter. "Blessings on everyone who prayed and contacted legislators! Stay involved!"

The legislation had passed committee on a party-line vote. While the floor debate and vote were initially scheduled for April 15, they were delayed until the following day, after Democratic state Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins went home sick. The Democrats control the Senate in the state by a single vote.

"The far-reaching, long-term effects of this bill could be devastating to the pro-life cause," said Marie Gorham, who attended the protest that was promoted with an email by the Denver archbishop.

Political pundits have long viewed Colorado as a policy lab for left-of-center political experimentation, such as legalized recreational marijuana, and critics feared the new pro-abortion bill would start a new national policy trend.

"Abortion advocates want to establish a precedent right here, where they have achieved so many other victories in their ongoing challenge to traditional American values," said Gorham, of Golden, Colo.

The Reproductive Health Freedom Act (Senate Bill 175) was written to forbid any regulation of "reproductive health care."

The bill’s summary said it "prohibits a state or local policy that denies or interferes with an individual’s reproductive health-care decisions or a state or local policy regarding reproductive health care that is inconsistent with, or that denies or interferes with access to information based on, current evidence-based scientific data and medical consensus."

It defined "reproductive health care" as "treatment, services, procedures, supplies, products, devices or information related to human sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, abortion or assisted reproduction."

"It prevents commonsense regulations like waiting periods, restrictions on abortions pills (particularly for minors) and parental-notification policies," wrote Archbishop Aquila in an April 11 open letter to Catholics. "Advocates of this bill seek the absolute ‘right to abortion’ for girls as young as 10 or 11 without a parent’s knowledge, guidance or advice."

"This overreaching piece of legislation would essentially shut down any attempt to pass life-affirming legislation in Colorado ever again," Archbishop Aquila warned in his letter. "More than that, it enshrines the ‘right to abortion’ into Colorado law."

 

Senate Vote Key

After two successful recalls of Democratic senators in late 2013, the balance of the Colorado Senate is 18 Democrats and 17 Republicans. SB 175 opponents were praying for at least one Democrat to vote pro-life.

Senators had planned to vote during the archbishop’s assembly and prayer vigil outside, but Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins — a key supporter and crucial vote for the bill’s passage — reportedly went home sick. Democrats, who control all branches of Colorado government, delayed the vote until the next day, when Kefalas returned.

Bill opponents crammed public areas of the Senate chambers and believe the outside protest, phone calls and high volume of visible opposition may have played a role in the delay.

"The turnout was phenomenal," said Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, on April 15. "The gallery was packed, and I believe the outpouring of opposition to this may be giving the advocates pause."

Archbishop Aquila told protesters that senators were receiving so many calls they turned off their phones. Calls to a variety of senators April 15 went straight to voicemail boxes that were full.

"I know the prayers of thousands of people are making a difference among my colleagues in the Senate," said Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, who opposed the bill. "The phone calls, the emails, the prayers are all having an effect," she said before the vote.

 

Unregulated Abortions

Among those who marched on the Capitol was 19-year-old Kaylie Haynes, a Colorado native. She testified against SB 175 before it passed out of a Senate committee on a 4-3 party-line vote April 10.

A Catholic student at Colorado School of Mines, Haynes told legislators the bill was so poorly written that anyone would be able to interpret it as justification for almost anything remotely related to human reproduction. She believed the bill would prevent enforcement of basic health-and-safety regulations at abortion businesses and even impede efforts to shut down the child sex trade.

"The intent of the bill is to solidify and confirm so-called abortion rights in Colorado, but everything in it is so poorly defined that no one will be able to enforce anything," Haynes told the Register on April 15.

Archbishop Aquila also warned how the bill could eliminate basic health-and-safety standards at abortion businesses.

"Remember Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia and the horrific images and stories of women dying on the abortionist’s table?" the archbishop wrote in his letter. "This is what an unregulated abortion clinic looks like! This bill is not good for the women and girls of Colorado."

Marble said the bill was a "dream come true" for pro-abortion lawyers.

"Because of this bill’s general ambiguity, it will have ramifications on sex-ed curriculums, parental-consent laws, age of consent and just about anything anyone could define as having something to do with reproduction," explained Marble, a Catholic, ahead of the vote.

 

Targeting Ultrasounds?

Gorham, who is a peer counselor at Lighthouse Women’s Center in Denver, believed the bill mostly reflected an attempt to stop mandatory ultrasounds. Though Colorado does not require pre-abortion ultrasounds, Colorado Knights of Columbus chapters are advocating for a law.

"That’s what the abortion industry really fears, and this would protect them," Gorham said. "People who sell abortions don’t like ultrasound requirements, because 80% of women who get an ultrasound before an abortion change their minds and keep their babies. They cannot have women seeing their babies. I have all kinds of girls come in and say they didn’t know it was a baby. They’re told it’s a ‘product of conception.’"

She believed the bill would even prevent enforcement of mandatory reporting laws, which require health-care providers — including in abortion businesses — to report suspicion of sexual abuse of children.

"A lawyer could argue that by requiring providers to report suspicion, the law interferes with a reproductive health-care decision," Gorham said before the vote.

NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado emphasized that Colorado — the first state to legalize abortion, in 1967 — faces annual challenges to "reproductive rights." An article on ThinkProgress.org, which also advocated for the bill, defined challenges that inspired the bill as laws across the country that impose "ultrasound requirements, mandatory waiting periods, restrictions on the administration of the abortion pill and burdensome clinic regulations."

"But if SB 175 is approved, that anti-choice strategy won’t be able to advance in Colorado," the article stated.

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, sponsored the bill and told Denver’s KDVR TV before the vote, "It simply protects personal freedom and women’s and families’ rights to determine what’s appropriate according to their own value system."

Kerr and co-sponsor Sen. Jean Nicholson, D-Georgetown, did not return calls to the Register. Calls to NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado also were not returned ahead of the vote.

 

Attorney General Suthers

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, a devout Catholic, concurred with critics who said the law was so vague it would cause an assortment of unintended consequences — including legal challenges to laws that mandate health-care providers report suspected sexual abuse of children.

"It appears this is a bill intended to rally the (Democratic) base in advance of November’s election," said Suthers, a Republican, before the vote.

It was so vague and poorly written, Suthers told the Register, that he could see it interfering with multiple aspects of state and local governance.

"Suppose a land-use board approves fewer parking spaces than were requested in a clinic proposal. The state might try to tell them they couldn’t do that because fewer parking spaces would restrict access to reproductive health care," Suthers said.

"Abortion law is already pretty clear. All unsettled issues regarding abortion are on the perimeter, meaning issues like parental notification. This law would just inflame things," Suthers added.

After the rally, the archbishop commented about the event on his Twitter account.

"Thank you to all of you who joined for prayer for mercy @ 3pm on steps of #Colorado Capitol to stop #SB175," he said in one tweet.

In his next tweet, he added, "Today was about the good people of Colorado who showed up to pray & give witness for the defeat of #SB175."

(CNA contributed to this report.)

Wayne Laugesen

writes from Colorado.