COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The three Catholic bishops of Colorado sent letters April 14 to state legislators urging opposition to a bill aimed at defining abortion as a fundamental right in the state of Colorado.
The bill, S.B. 175, was introduced by state Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr and Jeanne Nicholson and state Democratic Reps. Dianne Primavera and Mike McLachlan.
On April 10, the measure passed on a 4-3 party line vote by the Democratic-majority Senate Health and Human Services Committee and now moves to the Senate floor.
Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila led a prayer rally outside the Capitol the afternoon of April 15 while a Senate hearing on the measure was to take place. The hearing ended up being postponed because a legislator went home ill and was rescheduled for the following day, but more than 1,000 pro-life supporters joined the archbishop for the rally.
The archbishop walked up the Capitol's front steps, saying the Divine Mercy chaplet with the crowd and afterward asking for the spirit of truth to come into the halls of the Capitol.
"The main concern many have about this bill is that it is both extreme and dangerously ambiguous. Contrary to what some reports may have tried to pass off as factual, this legislation does indeed open the door to challenge existing regulations, particularly through the court system," said Archbishop Aquila said. "Anyone who claims that this law will have no material effect is either naive or disingenuous."
In an April 11 open letter, the Denver archbishop called on "all Coloradans of good will" to devote 10 minutes to prayer for the defeat of the bill. Three days later, his plea was followed by the letter to legislators from him and Bishops Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs and Stephen J. Berg of Pueblo. The prelates urged state lawmakers to reject the measure.
Supporters of S.B. 175 say it aims to protect freedom of conscience from government interference in an individual's reproductive health decisions.
The bill proposes "to prohibit 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."
However, the Colorado Catholic Conference, the legislative arm of the state's Catholic bishops, released an analysis April 8 that shows the bill is not quite what it appears to be.
"This is a radical bill that would create a 'fundamental right' to abortion among other things defined as 'reproductive health care' in this bill," said the conference's executive director, Jennifer Kraska.
"No Colorado state governmental body at any level would be able to enact any common-sense policy that 'denies or interferes with an individual's reproductive health care decision,'" she said. "This bill is an attempt to convince the people of Colorado that their ability to make choices concerning their reproductive healthcare will somehow be hindered -- which couldn't be further from the truth."
She called S.B. 175 "an extreme piece of legislation that would have a destructive impact on Colorado's ability to limit or regulate abortion and other items defined as 'reproductive healthcare' in this bill."
"It has the potential," she continued, "to eliminate a broad range of laws including: parental notification laws, parental involvement laws, laws promoting maternal health, government programs and facilities that pay for or promote childbirth and other health care without subsidizing abortion, conscience protections laws, laws requiring that abortion only be performed by a licensed physician, laws regulating school health clinics, laws concerning abstinence education, laws affecting pregnancy centers and so on."
Among the bill's supporters are NARAL Pro-Choice America and its Colorado affiliate; the organization claims that this will be the first bill of its kind passed in the country.
In a recent statement, NARAL said that S.B. 175 will prevent "attacks on women's health" that have come in the form of pro-life bills that restrict abortion access being passed in other states the past year. NARAL has mobilized advocates of legal abortion to support the bill.
According to Kraska, S.B. 175 is essentially a state Freedom of Choice Act, or FOCA, that goes further than simply upholding a so-called right to abortion.
"It affects rights to anything defined as 'reproductive health care,'" Kraska said.
In S.B. 175, "reproductive health care" is defined as: "treatment, services, procedures, supplies, products, devices or information related to human sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, abortion or assisted reproduction."
A federal FOCA measure was last introduced in the 110th Congress (2007-2009) and went nowhere. But as introduced, it declared that it is the policy of the United States that every woman has the "fundamental right" to terminate a pregnancy. The act would prohibit government at every level -- federal, state and local -- from "interfering" with a woman's decision to have an abortion and from "discriminating" against the exercise of such a right.
FOCA was first introduced in 1989. Abortion groups feared that the Supreme Court was retreating from its 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision and began a drive to establish an even more expansive right to abortion on statutory grounds.
Karna Swanson, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Denver, told the Denver Catholic Register that the Colorado bill could "be a devastating blow that would firmly establish a culture of death in Colorado.
"The pro-life movement has been working for decades to promote legislation that protects life and promotes a culture that is life-giving and life-affirming. This legislation directly attacks those efforts, and threatens to sever that most beautiful bond between mother and child."
Swanson said the bill could threaten pro-life initiatives in Colorado that help mothers with unplanned pregnancies.
In a letter to Colorado senators, Jesuit Father John P. Fitzgibbons, president of Regis University, urged them to reject the measure. As a Catholic, he believes all life is sacred, "from natural conception to natural death," he said, and as a citizen, "I am convinced that this type of ill-defined lawmaking that has not considered the possible ramifications on such important aspects of our human freedom and dignity is a very bad idea."