I don’t blame Republicans for their legislative tactics — or, to put a finer point on it, theatrics — in their very public effort to slow down Democratic House Bill 1279, which would codify abortion rights in Colorado.
After all, there is hardly any issue as important to the Republican base as abortion. I mean, other than the God-given right not to wear a mask in times of pandemic and, yes, the right to always and forever carry a gun. I hope you saw the story that state Rep. Richard Holtorf’s handgun somehow fell out of his pants and onto the floor as he was rushing toward the House chamber. The gun didn’t go off, but a few fireworks did follow. So did a few questions as to whether Holtorf, a longtime Army vet, qualifies as a responsible gun owner.
So, Republican legislators will have their sideshow on abortion, like the 24-hour continuous debate conducted in the House, during which no one, I’m glad to report, was shot. But, as everyone knows, HB-1279 will inevitably pass. And, as everyone knows, Gov. Jared Polis will inevitably sign it into law.
What I do question is how Republican legislators could possibly think these loud objections will help them come the November elections. The problem for Colorado Republicans, who are desperate to turn around their fortunes after their worst showing in memory in 2020, is that they have no power to block the law or even amend it.
But they can use their power — and are doing so — to help imprint this issue on every voter’s mind.
While abortion is legal in Colorado and while attempts to restrict abortion rights — either in the legislature or at the ballot box — have repeatedly failed, there is nothing in Colorado law that spells out exactly what the right to abortion means in the state. And that’s despite the fact that Colorado was the first state, back in 1967, six years before Roe v. Wade, to decriminalize abortion.
But now that Roe is under its most serious attack in years — most observers expect the Trumpian Supreme Court to either gut or overturn Roe in a ruling by this summer — there was suddenly a need to put a law in place that would guarantee women in Colorado will maintain the right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy. And it would also deny the basis for the so-called personhood laws — Colorado has twice rejected them at the polls — that would grant a fertilized egg legal rights. Democrats further argue that if Roe is overturned, there’s no certainty that Colorado localities couldn’t pass their own rules on abortion.
The case before the Supreme Court is a Mississippi law that would ban nearly all abortions after 15 weeks, with no exception in cases of rape or incest. The court could simply call the law constitutional or it could say that states have the right to determine their own abortion laws or it could make whatever ruling it wants that can get five votes from its 6-3 conservative majority.
Let’s face it, the Mississippi 15-week law is now on the liberal side of the anti-abortion debate. You all know about the six-week abortion law in Texas, which is being enforced by citizen vigilantes, and that the court has, so far, allowed to stand. Idaho just passed its version of the Texas law. More are coming.
I’ve long maintained that the Republican crusade to overturn Roe would be a political disaster for the party. According to the polls, most Americans agree with a woman’s right to choose an abortion. And while overturning Roe wouldn’t ban abortions, it would make abortions central to the 2022 elections because, suddenly, legislators would be the ones making these choices.
During oral arguments for the Mississippi case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor decried the “stench” of politics in the apparent willingness to overturn long-held law on abortions in America.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” Sotomayor asked. “I don’t see how it is possible.”
In Colorado, we remember how Cory Gardner upset incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. In the 2014 election, Udall was ridiculed for trying to make Gardner’s anti-abortion stance into a campaign issue. At the time, Gardner said that, as a senator, he would have no influence on abortion’s course.
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That was before Gardner helped enable Sen. Mitch McConnell to block Merrick Garland from getting even a hearing after being nominated for a Supreme Court vacancy by Barack Obama. And that was before Gardner voted to confirm each of Trump’s three choices for the court. Udall, it turned out, was right.
Democrats will remember that this fall. And they’ll remind voters that a Republican-led legislature would almost surely do whatever was in its power to limit Colorado abortion rights. In any legislative race that is even remotely close, it will be an issue. And the greater an issue it becomes, the greater the chance that Republican candidates will suffer.
We know where Colorado voters stand on this. In the last attempt to limit abortion rights, Republican went after later-term abortions, which is one place where support for abortion could have been wobbly. But the ballot measure, which would have banned abortions after 22 weeks, was soundly defeated by a 60-40 vote.
Colorado Republicans are already looking at a major self-inflicted wound as Tina Peters helps keep Trump’s Big Lie — a big loser in Colorado — front and center. And if Roe is overturned, a noisy, futile fight against abortion rights looks like one more obstacle Republicans are putting in their own way.
Unless, that is, you think Republicans are better off talking about abortion than, say, how much it costs to buy each and every gallon of gas.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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