NEW YORK – Catholics leaders in Colorado and Oklahoma reacted with dismay and praise for their state legislatures earlier this week as the former enshrined the right to abortion into state law, and the latter passed a near-total abortion ban.
Colorado and Oklahoma are the latest states to enact either pro-life or pro-abortion laws while the future of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance. The Colorado and Oklahoma bills are the most extreme to be enacted this legislative session.
In response to the Colorado bill, Archbishop Samuel Aquaila of Denver wrote, “Jesus forgive us!” on social media, adding that the bill is a “triumph for the culture of death and further erosion of the dignity of human life. We will continue to pray for the conversion of hearts.”
The Colorado bill, known as the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA), was signed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis on April 4. The bill enshrines the right to an abortion through an entire pregnancy into Colorado law. The bill states that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of this state.”
“In the state of Colorado, the serious decision to start or end a pregnancy with medical assistance will remain between a person, their doctor, and their faith,” Polis said in a statement. “The bill simply maintains the status quo regardless of what happens at the federal level and preserves all existing constitutional rights and obligations.”
Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference challenged Polis’s assertion that this bill “simply maintains the status quo.”
“The enactment of (RHEA) into Colorado law is tragic, as the pro-abortion lawmakers rejected the desire of millions of Coloradans who do not support on-demand abortion up to birth,” 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.”
Vessely added that the bill “aligns with the extreme minority that wants unrestricted abortion for the full 40-weeks of pregnancy, citing that in 2020 1.3 million Coloradans voted to prohibit abortion at 22-weeks viability, and a 2020 Cygnal poll that showed 63 percent of Coloradans believe there should be some restrictions on abortion.
The population of Colorado is about 6 million.
There are 15 other states with abortion rights codified. New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont protect the right to abortion throughout pregnancy. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island and Washington all protect the right to an abortion prior to viability. Viability is the point that a fetus can survive outside of the womb; approximately 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
The new Colorado bill was in response to the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which the Supreme Court is expected to decide this summer. It deals with the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law, the “Gestational Age Act,” that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy except in medical emergencies and in cases of “severe fetal abnormality.”
The case is one of, if not the biggest challenge to Roe v. Wade – the 1973 decision that declared a nationwide right to an abortion – and the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which prevents states from banning abortion before viability.
If the cases are overturned abortion law goes back to the states.
Pro-life states in recent months have passed abortion bans in anticipation of a favorable decision in the Dobbs case; Oklahoma being the latest.
The Oklahoma House on April 5 overwhelmingly voted for Senate Bill 612 that makes abortion illegal except to save the life of a pregnant women in a medical emergency. It states that a person convicted of performing or attempting to perform an abortion is guilty of a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and an up to $100,000 fine.
The bill now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is expected to sign it.
“I appreciate the continued efforts of the Oklahoma State Legislature in working to protect the unborn,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City told Crux in a statement. “It is especially important that we make clear at the state level the existence of a right to life as we wait for the decision in the Dobbs case at the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“We must respect the value and God-given dignity of every human person and strive to support moms and families in crisis so that they know there are better choices available for them and their babies,” the archbishop continued.
Prior to the Oklahoma bill, Florida, West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona all moved forward with 15-week abortion bans this legislative session. Alongside Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin also have pre-Roe laws banning abortion still on the books that would go back into effect if Roe is overturned.
Idaho also passed a bill near the end of March that prohibits abortions once embryonic or fetal cardiac activity has been detected, believed to be about six weeks. The bill makes exceptions in the case of medical emergencies, rape, or incest. It mirrors a controversial Texas bill passed last fall that is enforced through private lawsuits against abortion providers.
In response to the new Colorado bill, Vessely said for the first time 21 pro-life organizations have unified as one voice – Pro-Life Colorado – to continue to advocate against and address the bill.
“There is more work to be done to advocate for the dignity of human life and oppose efforts to expand abortion,” Vessely said. “Pro-Life Colorado coalition will continue to fight efforts to expand abortion, and also promote a culture of life through legislative advocacy and education campaigns.”
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