Sanctity Of Life – For Some

It’s January again, and that means it’s time for El Paso County’s annual commemoration of the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v Wade, with a resolution identifying Jan. 21-28 as Sanctity of Human Life Week.

Among the whereases of the resolution is this statement: “Every child is a priority and a blessing, and we believe that all should be welcomed in life and protected by law, and therefore we champion compassionate alternatives to abortion, such as encouraging adoption and promoting abstinence education.”

And in the subsequent wherefore: “As we reflect upon the sanctity of human life, we call upon our residents to recognize this week with appropriate ceremonies in our homes and places of worship, to rededicate ourselves to compassionate service, and to reaffirm our commitment to respecting the life and dignity of every human being.”

It is the fourth year that the board of county commissioners have adopted such a proclamation, which is modeled after George W. Bush’s annual Sanctity of Human Life resolution and sponsored locally by Commissioner Wayne Williams, a former chairman of the county Republican Party. All five elected commissioners are Republicans, though in the past Commissioner Douglas Bruce has abstained from the vote, as he does on all nonbinding county resolutions. Bruce, an anti-tax activist and author of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, rejects such decrees, including recognizing the Boy Scouts and Veterans’ Day, as wasteful and not the business of government. The Sanctity of Human Life proclamation is scheduled to be adopted on Thursday, Jan. 11.

Williams tells Colorado Confidential that, “as public officials, it’s appropriate not just to speak out on a safe issue which no one will disagree with you, as well as controversial topics as well.”

In the past, he said, Planned Parenthood wrote a letter of objection to the annual resolution. This year, several local bloggers, including at Newspeak and It’sMyTribe, have weighed in with comments ranging from calls for “celebratory house orgies” to tongue-in-cheek praise that the conservative commissioners are calling for an end to the war in Iraq.

However, Katie Groke Ellis, public affairs coordinator of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, says she has no plans to contact the commissioners with objections this year.

“We have plans to celebrate the anniversary in our special way, and will continue with those plans,” Groke Ellis says. “But you know, I would like to see what their plan is to prevent unplanned pregnancies. That resolution is doing nothing from preventing unintended pregnancies.”

Groke Ellis says she is unaware of any other Colorado county that is considering such a proclamation. Instead, she said, lawmakers would do better to focus on “full access to family planning, health care access and real sex education for our teens.”

“Roe v. Wade is a powerful reminder that politicians should stay out of our families’ personal, moral and medical decisions,” she said.

As tempting as it may be to start hollering about how the right-wing cabal is in charge and how the county’s planned resolution is divisive and offensive, we will instead cite another angle originally published in the Colorado Springs Independent, back in 2004, the first year the resolution was adopted.

The commissioners’ pro-life resolution is irrelevant — that is, the county has no jurisdiction over whether or not abortion is legal. It does, however, run the Department of Human Services. And, in case our elected officials missed it, we are compelled to draw their attention to a disturbing Denver Post series that has detailed how neglected and abused children in Colorado are dying — after social services agencies have been warned of the situations.

In El Paso County alone, the Post reported, 12 children died between 1995 and 2000, “despite repeated warnings [to the county].”

Among the dead: 1-year-old Isaiah Oliva, who had suffered a heartbreaking list of injuries, and who ultimately drowned in a bathtub.

Seven-year old Aaren Dunn died in June 2000 after her father slit her throat from ear to ear (the Department of Human Services ignored five previous assertions of child abuse in the Dunn case).

In April 1998, 5-month-old Selina Alvarado died of head injuries. The county had been warned about the potential for abuse since the day after Selina was born.

In February 2002, 13-year-old Jeremiah Santiago was shot in the head by his father, who was showing him how to use a handgun. His death followed five previous reports of suspected child abuse to the county.

The problems in El Paso County were contained in a state fatality review. After the Post‘s series appeared, commissioners did not issue any sort of formal statement – like, perhaps, that they would order an internal investigation into its Department of Human Services to ensure that more innocent children do not die at the hands of abusers.

Cara DeGette is a longtime editor and columnist at the Colorado Springs Independent.

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