Following a marathon public hearing on a proposal to codify unrestricted abortion into Colorado law, a state committee passed the bill in the early hours of March 10, sending the bill one step closer to a debate in the full House.
The bill, sponsored by two state representatives and one state senator, would enshrine into law the exclusion of any rights to unborn children, allowing abortion for any reason— including reasons of disability, sex, and race— up until birth.
The Reproductive Health Equity Act would affirm the “fundamental right” for a person to “use or refuse contraception;” and also that “every pregnant individual has a fundamental right to continue the pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion.”
The bill further stipulates: “[A] fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of the state.”
Ahead of the House Health and Insurance committee hearing, the Colorado Catholic Conference warned that Colorado is “set to become the most radical abortion state in the country” if it passes the bill into law.
“What that says to me is that Colorado does not want a radical abortion bill like this one to become law,” Vessely told CNA following the hearing.
“It's out of touch with Colorado voters, and it casts aside the the voices of millions of Coloradans.”
Colorado already does little to restrict abortion. It was the first state to legalize abortion, in 1967; and it is currently one of a handful of states in the country where abortions can take place up until birth. Each year 200-300 babies are aborted after 21-weeks gestation in the state, including many with Down syndrome.
Despite strong support from Christian communities in the state, Colorado voters in 2020 rejected a ballot measure that would have banned abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases where a mother's life is threatened.
The impetus for the bill now in the legislature, according to its Democratic sponsors, is the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which observers say has a significant chance of overturning Roe v. Wade when a decision is released later this year.
Among those testifying in favor of the bill were representatives of the dissident group Catholics for Choice, a group which Vessely noted has no authority to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church in Colorado.
Testimony in opposition to the bill did not begin until nearly 6pm, Vessely said, and the hearing did not end until 4am Thursday.
Vessely testified against the bill during the hearing, saying in part: “Human reason based on the findings of science affirms that human life begins at conception, and human beings have an inherent developmental trajectory that does not start, stop, or change at birth. At the moment of birth, a baby does not all of the sudden gain her dignity and worth.”
“The Catholic Church objects to abortion on the principle that every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person. This is the foundation of the Church’s social doctrine, which is why it is the preeminent issue,” she continued.
Among other things, the Catholic Conference had warned that the bill could effectively remove Colorado’s requirement, passed in 2003, that parents of minors be notified 48 hours before an abortion procedure.
Vessely expressed hope during her testimony that the bill’s sponsors would add an amendment to the bill clarifying that it was not intended to remove the state’s parental notification requirement, but no such amendment was adopted.
Also testifying was Linda Saccomano, Executive Director of Alternatives, a network of pro-life pregnancy centers that have operated in the Denver area for the past 40 years. She told CNA ahead of the hearing that regardless of the outcome of the vote, Alternatives will continue to serve the medical and counseling needs of women facing crisis pregnancies in Colorado.
"Abortion is not their only option. They don't have to choose between their success and the life of their unborn child,” Saccomano told CNA ahead of the hearing.
Vessely, too, mentioned with sadness that several women who testified in support of the bill claimed that they could not have finished college if they had not aborted their child.
“I think that's worth highlighting is that women do not have to abort their children to be successful in life, and there were so many testimonies in the opposition of the bill of women saying exactly that,” she said, pointing to testimony from Lauren Castillo, Director of Development for Students for Life of America.
Castillo testified that despite getting pregnant in college while working and dealing with difficult life circumstances, she chose life for her son and ultimately was very successful, thanks to the support she received from her community.
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“I now work full time to ensure other women do not have to feel pressured into abortions, because that is a reality when women don’t know their community does support them,” Castillo said.
“Abortion extremists in Colorado want the state constitution to say that my son and I are different classes of citizens. They want you to think that because I'm bigger and stronger than my son, I deserve the unfettered right to kill him. And they want you to believe that my son should have had no rights under the law until he reached a certain age. If that doesn't remind you of the bogus legal arguments that were made by slaveholders to keep their slaves on the plantation, I don't know what does,” Castillo continued.
Amy Langemann, a nurse at Alternatives Pregnancy Center, told CNA before the hearing that she hopes to challenge the bill’s supporters to consider the long-term impact of abortion on women: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
She said she often hears the mantra that abortion will end a woman’s crisis so that she can move on, but in her experience working with women who have had abortions, "the exact opposite is true…abortion is not the end of the crisis."
In addition, Langemann took issue with the description of abortion as “reproductive health care,” and warned that the dehumanizing language in the bill used to describe preborn children "has implications far beyond the unborn."
It implies that certain humans have more of a right to live than others, which is “discrimination in its purest and most sickening form," she said.
Dr. Tom Perille, a retired physician and president of the Democrats for Life of Colorado, brought along a model showing life-size preborn babies at various stages of development. He told CNA that in his view, the bill represents an "effective use of dehumanization by abortion proponents,” as it would confer "no rights or value" to unborn children.
He said that by removing all restrictions on abortion, the bill is “more radical than anything in the world,” noting that even human rights violators such as China and North Korea do not allow unrestricted abortion.
The bill passed the committee by a 7-4, party-line vote.
Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer. He is based in St. Louis.
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