Thunderdome 2015: Abortion politics vs. Colorado

“Thunderdome 2015” is The Colorado Independent’s wrap-up series on the 2015 legislative season. For a series overview, check out “Thunderdome 2015: 120 days under the gold dome.”

Last year, swing-state Colorado was home to a high-stakes mid-term election debate over reproductive rights. One side argued that anachronistic overreaching conservatives would work to take away women’s access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion and full-spectrum birth-control options. The other side argued that one-note progressives were crying wolf, that no one was coming after anyone’s reproductive rights, that access to abortion was the law of the land, and that there was no such thing as a Republican “war on women.” Conservatives seemed to win that debate. They mocked Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall as “Mark Uterus” for his “obnoxious” campaign over abortion rights, and Udall lost his seat.

Then came the 2015 legislative session in Colorado and the anti-choice activists put abortion back onto the chopping block.

Senate Republicans introduced a fetal homicide bill written by national anti-abortion group Americans United for Life. The bill included hardline “personhood” language, proposing to define a “person” and a “child” in the state’s criminal code to include “human beings from the moment of conception to natural death.”

The bill predictably set off warning bells among women’s rights groups from the minute it was introduced.

In 2008 and 2010, “personhood” initiatives were defeated in landslide 70 percent majority votes in Colorado. In 2014 came the Brady Amendment, a “very different take” on personhood, as it was pitched. The amendment was named after a fetus killed in a drunk-driving accident. So-called personhood was never mentioned by the proposal’s drafters. Supporters said the initiative was just about protecting “pregnant mothers and their unborn children from criminal offenses and negligent and wrongful acts.” But wary Coloradans voted it down with a 65 percent majority. That was November.

The Senate fetal homicide bill came in April, after a dreadful attack on a pregnant woman in Longmont. But it was a replay of the Brady Amendment. Supporters said the bill was not at all about abortion. Yet, like the Brady initiative, the bill aimed to place personhood into the state’s criminal code and include fetuses as potential victims. The bill sponsor, Senate President Bill Cadman, accepted no amendments to change the personhood language.

In debate, opponents said they feared the bill was an anti-abortion Trojan Horse. Lawmakers like Ellen Roberts — a moderate Republican who shepherded the bill through Senate committees and floor debate — expressed disbelief.

“What?!” came the response, “Oh, please,” as if Colorado hasn’t been a personhood battleground for nearly a decade.

The bill failed.

Finally, in the last weeks of the session, conservatives in the Senate introduced a bill that would have required doctors to administer not-medically-necessary ultrasounds to pregnant women seeking abortions and it would have put in place mandatory waiting periods before women could undergo an abortion. The bill also would have required doctors to show women photos of their fetuses and to describe the way human nerve endings grow and begin to deliver sensations, including pain.

Supporters of the bill parked an ultrasound van across the street from the Capitol during debate. Opponents were aghast. They saw something showy and sardonic about the bill and the way it was being presented, as if the sponsor, Tim Neville, a Republican from Littleton, knew it would be defeated and so was determined to wring the most he could from its shock value.

“They say the ‘War on Women’ is a myth, but the anti-choice crowd proved it’s alive and well in Colorado,” wrote pro-choice group “No on 67” this week in a post-legislative-session fundraising email. The group was established to battle the Brady Amendment last year, but it hasn’t disbanded. Why would it, given Colorado’s scratched-record reproductive-rights politics? The group hasn’t even changed its name.

Read “Thunderdome 2015: 120 days under the gold dome,” for the rest of the series.