DENVER — A day after more than 1,000 pro-lifers joined Denver's archbishop in a prayer rally to oppose a bill that would have established abortion as a "fundamental right" in Colorado, Democratic senators in the state Legislature late April 16 tabled a vote on the measure indefinitely, effectively killing it for the session.
At the rally Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told the crowd, "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."
"Anyone who claims that this law will have no material effect is either naive or disingenuous," he said.
The bill, S.B. 175, was introduced by state Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr and Jeanne Nicholson. On April 10, the measure passed on a 4-3 party line vote by the Democratic-majority Senate Health and Human Services Committee and went to the Senate floor.
A hearing scheduled for April 15 was postponed because a legislator went home ill and was rescheduled for the next day. Late the night of April 16 a couple of Democrats were undecided on the bill, so it was tabled. Democrats have a one-vote majority in the state Senate.
S.B. 175 defined "reproductive health care" as: "treatment, services, procedures, supplies, products, devices or information related to human sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, abortion or assisted reproduction."
Opponents said that if the measure passed no pro-life legislation would have a chance to be passed in the state again.
"I thank God that this bill has died," said Colorado Springs Bishop Michael J. Sheridan in an April 17 statement. "If passed, it would have made abortion a 'fundamental right' in the state of Colorado, thus effectively rendering illegal any reasonable efforts to provide for the health of a pregnant woman and her unborn child. To all who have been praying that this legislation not be passed I am deeply grateful."
According to Republican Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, an online petition he posted to gather signatures opposing S.B. 175 resulted in "almost 5,000 people" signing it "in 10 hours."
"I got 1,400 emails," Republican Sen. David Balmer of Centennial told guests in Senate chambers before the vote. "I got about 50 calls an hour. I was getting 100 an hour. All parts of the Christian faith are united on this one."
In an April 11 open letter, Archbishop Aquila 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 a letter to state legislators urging opposition to a bill, ,which was signed by the archbishop, Bishop Sheridan and Bishop Stephen J. Berg of Pueblo.
Also at the forefront of opposition to S.B. 175 was the Colorado Catholic Conference, the legislative arm of the state's bishops.
In a thank-you note to supporters, the conference's executive director, Jennifer Kraska, quoted Pope Francis from a speech he gave last September: "A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern."
Added Kraska in her note: "Thank you to everyone who made their voices heard concerning S.B. 175. It was your witness that made it possible to kill this horrible piece of legislation.
"It is because of your willingness to engage the public square that we were able to defeat SB 175! Your voices matter and are needed in the public square now more than ever; please remember what we were able to accomplish and continue to be involved and make your voices heard!"
An exuberant pro-life crowd of more than 100 filed out of the Senate gallery after the vote to table the measure.
"We can make a difference," said Catie Weasler, 34, of Denver who attended both the prayer rally and the vote in the gallery. "This just goes to show what it means to give witness. It's so awesome." She said Catholics should use this as a motivator to be more politically aware in the future.
In an earlier statement, Kraska said that S.B. 175 was essentially a state Freedom of Choice Act, or FOCA, that would go further than simply upholding legal abortion.
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.