By Julie Asher, Catholic News Service
After hearing hours of testimony March 17 from hundreds of people opposed to a measure that would make Colorado “the most radical abortion state in the country,” as many said, the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee OK’d the bill in a 3-2 party line vote just after midnight.
“Coloradans do not want this law,” said Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference.
In the previous two weeks, she told the committee, over 350 Coloradans testified against the bill, called the Reproductive Health Equity Act, or RHEA; House members filibustered it for 24 hours “in the longest bill debate in state history”; and hundreds of Coloradans rallied against it at the Capitol.
“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, and its preeminent issue,” Vessely said. “This bill goes too far and casts aside the voices of millions of Coloradans — especially preborn children.”
Among others who spoke against the bill were Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, who submitted testimony, and Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver and Bishop Stephen J. Berg of Pueblo, who testified at the hearing.
Now the Reproductive Health Equity Act goes to the full Senate. The Colorado House passed the bill March 14.
If it becomes law, it would:
— Permit on-demand abortion for the full 40 weeks of a pregnancy.
— Allow abortion based on discrimination of sex, race or children with disabilities such as Down syndrome.
— Remove the requirement that parents of minors be notified if their minor receives an abortion.
— Enshrine in law that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws” of Colorado.
— Prohibit any regulation of abortion based on concerns regarding the health of the woman or baby.
Three Democratic lawmakers — Sen. Julie Gonzales, Rep. Meg Froelich and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar — co-sponsored the bill, also known as H.B. 22-1279.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Colorado already is one most permissive states when it comes to a woman’s access to abortion. It is one of seven states that do not impose any limits on abortions past the viability of the fetus at around 22 weeks.
“I am a mother of a 6-month-old girl,” Vessely told the Senate committee. “My daughter is just as dependent on me now as she was when she was inside my body.”
“If I abandoned my daughter, she would die for lack of sustenance and care,” she said. “But six months ago (under this bill), I would have been legally able to end her life gruesomely as a full-term preborn child. This bill shamelessly praises the fact that she would not have individual rights even up to birth.”
In testimony he submitted to the committee, Archbishop Aquila said: “At conception, we receive the gift of life, and lay claim to the right of life, which is bestowed by God and not by the government. The government’s only duty and task is to recognize the right to life and to protect life, if it is truly a just government.”
“But abortion denies that gift to some babies,” he continued. “It denies that basic right. It makes government god, and governments can change for good or for evil, depending on who is in charge.”
“Abortion has become an idol, which is tragic, for it promotes evil rather than the common good and the truth of the dignity of human life,” Archbishop Aquila said. “When an abortion is performed, we proclaim that we know better than God. We disregard his wisdom, for he taught us that we should never kill innocent human beings.”
He recalled that when he was “in college, working in hospitals, I witnessed two abortions. Two tiny humans being destroyed by violence. The memory haunts me.”
The archbishop implored the committee not to pass the measure, which he said will deny God’s “most wonderful gift to so many innocent, unique, unrepeatable and beautiful lives.”
“Colorado should be striving to promote a culture of life, not one of death through killing children in the womb,” said Bishop Rodriguez in testifying before the committee.
He called it “unbelievable” that H.B. 22-1279 “will permit abortion in state law up to the moment of birth.”
He noted that he is Hispanic and an immigrant and works closely with the Hispanic community.
“Whatever it has been said here, the Hispanic community is a pro-life community!” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Life, children and family are the great values and treasures of our culture and people. This is how we live, so we bring it with us to the United States. Thus, we hope to pass these values on to our children.”
He cited a 2019 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute showing that most Hispanics affiliated with a religion, Catholic or Protestant, said they were pro-life. Among all respondents, Hispanics were the only race or ethnicity where a majority thought abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, he added.
Noting Colorado’s growing Hispanic population, Bishop Rodriguez asked why the state’s General Assembly is “introducing the most extreme abortion legislation in the country?”
“The issue is about the life of a human being,” Bishop Berg told the committee.
He said that he and his fellow Colorado bishops in 2020 support a Senate bill that repealed Colorado’s death penalty “and promoted human dignity.”
“It is disturbing to me that upon abolishing the death penalty we are now seeking to pass this most extreme and unrestricted abortion law in our state,” he said. “Under this bill it is now being proposed that the fully formed child in the womb has ‘no independent or derivative rights’ in the state of Colorado. Preborn children will live under that same death sentence which we voted to abolish in 2020 under this unrestricted (bill.)”
In his diocese, he said, 19 ecumenical Caring Pregnancy Centers work with 92 Catholic parishes and missions to do “amazing work for young mothers in distress, as well as the fathers and, of course, the children.”
“It would be my dream that we could be debating how we could help them in our state with our legislation,” Bishop Berg added.