National abortion politics take center stage in Colorado

DENVER— The political battle in Colorado over abortion, women’s health care and family planning heated up Monday when lawmakers, activist groups and supporters on opposite sides of the issues took turns rallying on the west steps of the capitol here.

Although speakers referenced recent national clashes that have dominated headlines and are shaping presidential campaigns, the rallies were just the latest chapter in what has become a typical Colorado election-year war story, where Christian conservative forces vie with progressive political forces for the support of the swing-state citizenry.

Battles have already erupted on several fronts in Colorado. State Republican lawmakers are pushing an “offense against the unborn” personhood bill and a health-coverage related “religious freedom” bill. Anti-abortion Personhood USA, based in Arvada, is attempting to amend the state constitution with a ballot initiative. And a high-profile Republican primary in deep-red El Paso County is presently turning on accusations that one of the candidates is soft on abortion.

Indeed, one of the themes threading through the speeches at the “Rally to Protect Women’s Health,” which was organized by Planned Parenthood and the anti-personhood initiative Protect Families, Protect Choice coalition, was that the state and the country by extension were “at a crossroads” on reproductive rights, as Denver Democratic Representative Crisanta Duran put it.

She said women should refuse to allow people like “Rush Limbaugh to come between the decisions [that pass] between them and their doctors.”

“It is unbelievable that in the year 2012, the year 2012, there is an attack on one of the most fundamental and important rights to women, the right to make her own health care choices… We are living at a time in which House Bill 1130 will be debated in the building behind me, [a bill] that seeks to define personhood in our statutes and chip away at women’s rights. We are living at a time in which radical individuals are bringing forth divisive measures…”

Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, opened the rally on a note of sympathetic exasperation.

“Like so many women across this country, I am outraged and I am perplexed. What is going on with this birth control debate in this country? We are used to Roe being a target. We are used to anti-choice politicians … but these days they’re going after birth control. They’re going after access to basic health care. What is up with that? It’s 2012. It is long past the time to be debating these issues.”

Colorado State University senior Meagan Como said she was “shocked and appalled” at the political attacks on women coming from the right.

Referencing the recent national controversy tied to the congressional testimony of Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student Rush Limbaugh called a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating on behalf of reproductive health insurance, Como played the role of fact-checker, specifically calling out state Senator Greg Brophy, R-Wray, Limbaugh’s main local defender.

“I, like 99 percent of women, take birth control. While Senator Brophy would have you believe that taking birth control is something that I do recreationally, I would like to point out that 58 percent of women take birth control for something other than preventing pregnancies. I am also one of those women… I have low levels of clotting in my blood. It means that if I am injured, I would take much longer to heal than most of you. My doctors prescribe birth control to me to increase these clotting factors… As I’m sure most of you know, birth control is considered a normal treatment for [many conditions], including endometriosis and ovarian cysts. Birth control is basic preventative care…

“These political efforts to limit basic health care are an attack on family planning. It is an attack on women’s access to health care.”

The speakers at the rally argued a radical fringe that includes Republican lawmakers is attempting to hold back mainstream momentum building over the course of a century toward greater acceptance of women’s sexuality and of the need for the full range of contemporary healthcare services that go with it.

“At this point, I think [this debate] is hurting Republicans,” Michael Cummings, political science professor at the University of Colorado- Denver, told the Colorado Independent as the rally wrapped up. He said the positions being advanced on these issues by Republican lawmakers and candidates shouldn’t be viewed outside of the theater that is electoral politics.

“I’m dismayed but I’m not shocked [by the Republican proposals],” he said. “Ultimately, though, I think it’s undermining. Fifty-three percent of voters in the United States are women. The vast majority of women, even the vast majority of Republicans, supports access to birth control.”

Cummings views the current debate as a product of the “inept government” produced by the gerrymandered congressional districts that have come to divide the country into a partisan patchwork. In that light, he said, anti-contraception and invasive ultra-sound legislation, for example, although very serious in the pockets of the country where such legislation is passing into law, is really about show, not about policy.

In Colorado, it would be a hard case to argue against this year.

The state “personhood” and “religious freedom” bills will not make it past the Democrat-controlled Senate nor, if they did, would they be signed by the Democratic governor.

Personhood USA tried and failed by wide margins to pass its ballot initiative here in 2008 and 2010. In the event it gains enough signatures to make it onto the ballot again this year, it will very likely be voted down.

And the El Paso County Republican candidate accused of being soft on abortion is House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, a former employee of Christian-right empire Focus on the Family and the author of a popular abstinence-only sex education manual. The tenuousness of the accusation, which is that the healthcare-exchange bill Stephens sponsored in the House last year would provide tax money for abortions, suggests how commonplace that accusation has become, a cudgel to be wielded from the right in any political contest– even in a contest waged in the farthest corner of the right half of the ring.

[ Top image: Colorado Sens Morgan Carroll, D-Denver, and Lucia Guzman, D-Denver. ]