“Coloradans are not against common sense regulations on abortions, and they should have the opportunity to be able to debate and pass those regulations,” Archbishop Aquila Samuel J. Aquila said to a crowd of hundreds at an assembly and prayer vigil at the Colorado State Capitol.
The large crowd was a sign of the rapid buildup of opposition to the bill, which had been introduced late in the legislative session.
“Some of the senators have said they have shut off their phones. Some of them have said they have never been contacted by so many,” the archbishop told the crowd. “You can make a difference.”
The vote on the bill was originally scheduled for April 15, but a Democratic senator fell ill and left before the debate could take place. It will now receive a vote at 5 p.m. local time April 16.
Democratic Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins, who voted for the bill in committee, has told reporters he is now unsure whether he will vote for the bill, 9 News reports.
His statement puts the bill’s future in doubt. Democrats control the State Senate by only one vote, though they control Colorado’s House of Representatives by a wider margin.
If bill S.B. 175 becomes law, it would create a “fundamental right” to anything defined as “reproductive health care.” The bill would bar state agencies and local government from having a policy that “denies or interferes with an individual’s reproductive health care decisions.”
The pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America said that if the bill becomes law it will be the first of its kind in the country.
Opponents including the Colorado Catholic Conference say the bill could affect parental notification or involvement laws, conscience protection laws, and requirements that only licensed physicians can perform abortions. It could prevent abortion regulations aimed at protecting the health and safety of women and children.
In addition, the legislation could affect government programs and facilities that pay for or promote childbirth without subsidizing abortion. School health clinic policies and abstinence education policies could also be affected.
The bill aims to ban all new pro-life laws and regulations, though its effect on current laws and rules is debated.
Archbishop Aquila noted that lawyers and legal experts who testified before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee April 10 were “split” on whether the bill would impact existing laws.
“It was extremely telling to hear the drafter of the bill say that he did not know with 100 percent certainty that S.B. 175 wouldn’t affect current policies,” the archbishop said. “He told one reporter that he was ‘pretty sure’, but ‘pretty sure’ does not work.”
A staff attorney for the legislature told the committee hearing that the bill would likely not affect current law related to reproductive health, but it would bar changes to existing laws. Some critics of the bill have warned that local governments, including school boards, may be led to change their existing policies for fear of lawsuits.
Archbishop Aquila said that the legislation would open the door to challenges to existing regulations, especially through the court system.
“Anyone who claims that this law will have no material effect is either naïve or disingenuous,” he said.
“The fact is that there is nothing in the bill that says this law won’t affect current regulations in place,” he said. “If the intent of the bill is not to change current law, then it should state that explicitly in its language.”
Archbishop Aquila said it was “even more troubling” that the bill would make the enactment of laws like pre-abortion ultrasound requirements “extraordinarily difficult if not impossible.”
The archbishop told the April 15 prayer vigil to pray “that the truth will triumph” and to pray for “the conversion of hearts.”
He stressed the need for further action, noting the importance of voting and involvement in the political process.
“Too many times we have taken a back seat. Catholics, Christians and people of good will can no longer take a back seat. We are called to work for the good and for the true.”
The political party assemblies that choose major party candidates for the Colorado legislature have already met and designated candidates for the ballot. The delegates to these assemblies were chosen at neighborhood precinct caucuses across Colorado on March 4.
The Archbishop of Denver on April 15 rallied opposition to a Colorado bill he says is “both extreme and dangerously ambiguous” in its ban on all abortion regulations and other pro-life laws.