Analysts baffled by Colorado GOP abortion politics ‘strategery’
Colorado statehouse Republicans climbed aboard an anti-abortion bill this week that would outlaw abortion and emergency contraception, including in cases of rape and incest, and make performing the procedure a Class 3 felony. The bill, HB14-1133, was sponsored by Rep. Stephen Humphrey, who introduced the same bill last year, and it drew 19 co-sponsors.
Coloradans have voted in landslides against anti-abortion ballot initiatives for years, and Democrats, who control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office, are expected to quickly kill the bill in committee. It’s an election year, however, so they may draw out the bill’s death in order to keep Republicans talking about sex for as long as possible. In the state as in the nation, Republican lawmakers make headlines at regular intervals by holding forth with pinched, odd, pseudo-scientific notions about human reproduction and women’s bodies. Coloradans are still passing around a comic collage video of statehouse Republicans talking about sex last year at the capitol. Intercut moments of unwitting double entendre trade with stilted descriptions and bungling mispronunciations punctuated by telling outbursts.
As many have already noted, Republicans have gained political ground accusing the majority Democrats of last year encroaching on liberty by overreaching with ideological legislation that they say doesn’t accurately represent the feelings of Colorado residents. It’s hard to imagine a better way to undercut that narrative than to rally around Humphrey’s hard-core abortion bill. Why it was introduced this year and why so many Republicans signed on to it the moment it dropped remains a mystery.
Responses garnered by a quick survey of analysts who make a living watching Colorado politics and women’s reproductive rights underline a wider sense of bafflement.
“The thing that strikes me is it’s the same legislation, different day,” said Karren Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. Middleton says the bill misleads by grouping emergency contraceptives like Plan-B with abortion. She repeats what genuine experts have been explaining for years — that the medical community does not consider emergency contraception an abortion procedure because it is not an abortifacient. Plan B doesn’t target a fertilized egg; it prevents fertilization. In other words, if you don’t believe in abortion and you’ve had intercourse, Plan B is the way to go.
“There’s a likelihood this particular legislation has either been introduced in other states — though I don’t know that — or we have taken language from some of the same basic concepts,” Middleton said. She thinks the bill is meant to in effect backstop for the Brady Amendment, which is a “personhood” ballot initiative that would grant fertilized eggs legal rights. “I think Humphrey is attempting to replace the Brady Amendment — it’s very much identical to the Brady Amendment.”
Colorado political analyst Eric Sondermann sees the bill as a purity test.
“Some might suggest that such bills have to be put forth as a sign of fealty to the GOP’s pro-life base,” he said in an email. “But somehow I think that base knows who their friends are. And it’s a mystery as to how it serves their interests to have a bill that most centrist voters perceive as extreme and that is quickly killed. The Colorado GOP has a significant opportunity this year due to the perception of Democratic over-reach a year ago and to what could be a strong national wind at their back. But it’s an open question as to whether Colorado Republicans have the discipline and ‘strategery’ to restrain their most strident voices and capitalize on the opening.”
Humphrey was a candidate plucked from obscurity in the northern Front Range in 2012 by far-right string-puller organization Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. Humphrey defeated Republican Jeffrey Hare in the primary when Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Director Dudley Brown teamed with an East Coast anti-gay group to create an ugly mail campaign painting Hare as pro-gay-rights.
“Conservative ideology holds that the government should be less intrusive, but for some reason when it comes to women’s healthcare, this ideology doesn’t extend that far,” said Cathy Alderman, of Planned Parenthood. “There’s a belief that the government does have some decision on how to manage women’s healthcare and their reproductive health. We certainly see that as a contradiction.”
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