By Julie Asher, Catholic News Service
A day after Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed into law one of the nation’s most permissive abortion measures, a state away the Republican-led Oklahoma House passed a near-total ban on abortion April 5.
The new Colorado law permits abortion up to the moment of birth. Oklahoma’s Life at Conception Act allows exceptions in cases where the pregnant woman’s life is endangered.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Colorado already was one most permissive states when it comes to a woman’s access to abortion. It joins 15 other states and the District of Columbia that have codified abortion into law in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision in a Mississippi case.
In June or early July, the court will issue a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which involves Mississippi’s law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. It is expected the court will uphold the law and in doing so overturn Roe, returning the abortion issue to the states.
The results of a Wall Street Journal national poll released April 1 found strong public support for laws protecting the unborn after 15 weeks’ gestation. Forty-eight percent of 1,500 registered voters surveyed in March said they would favor a law that would “ban abortions after 15 weeks,” with an exception for the health of the mother; 43% said they opposed such a law.
The Oklahoma measure passed the state Senate last year and now it goes to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has vowed to sign pro-life measures into law. It would make performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to $100,000.
In anticipation of the Dobbs ruling, several other states have put abortion restrictions in place, including Idaho, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky.
Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act — also known as H.B 22-1279 permits on-demand abortion for the full 40 weeks of a pregnancy; allows abortion based on discrimination of sex, race or children with disabilities such as Down syndrome; removes the requirement that parents of minors be notified if their minor receives an abortion; enshrines in law that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights” under state laws; and prohibits any regulation of abortion based on concerns regarding the health of the woman or baby.
On April 4, the day Polis signed it, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila tweeted: “#Jesus forgive us! Tragic day for #Colorado with signing of #HB22-1279 unrestricted #abortion up to birth with zero rights for the unborn. A triumph for the culture of death & further erosion of the dignity of human life. We will continue to #pray for the conversion of hearts.”
The archbishop and Colorado’s other Catholic bishops were among hundreds offering testimony for hours in opposition to the bill in hearings as it made its way through the Colorado Legislature.
A key person leading the opposition was Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.
“Coloradans do not want this law,” Vessely told lawmakers at one committee hearing.
“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.”
As he signed the bill, Polis said that it “simply maintains the status quo” on abortion access and “preserves all existing constitutional rights and obligations” no matter what happens “at the federal level.”
In reaction to his remarks, Vessely told Crux: “This new law goes beyond the status quo by stripping away all human rights from preborn children, perpetuating a culture of death and eroding the dignity of human life.”
Under Oklahoma’s bill, anyone who performs an abortion would face up to 10 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. “The penalties are for the doctor, not for the woman,” said Rep. Jim Olsen, author of the House version.
“The pro-life movement has always owned its goal of abolishing abortion in our lifetime,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life Action and Students for Life of America. “And by that we don’t just mean stopping late-term abortions, abortions after viability, or the infanticide of children who survive abortion attempts; we mean protecting all children from the moment of conception.”
“That is exactly what Oklahoma has done with its Life At Conception Act,” she said in an April 5 statement.
Leaders of Students for Life Action said had a grassroots team in Oklahoma that lobbied lawmakers on the bill, distributed literature “in key districts” urging support for it, and collected signatures from residents on petitions backing the bill.
Hawkins called Colorado’s new abortion a “devastating blow to the rights of the preborn” but the two Students for Life groups “will continue to fight for life.”