Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea didn’t just vote for a 2020 ballot measure that would have banned abortions in Colorado after 22 weeks of pregnancy. He signed a petition to get Proposition 115 on the ballot that year.
O’Dea signed the petition on Feb. 26, 2020, according to documents from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office that The Colorado Sun reviewed on Thursday. That was about a week before signatures to get the measure on the ballot were due to state elections officials.
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His signature was the first below an explanation of what Proposition 115 would do: “prohibiting an abortion when the probable gestational age of the fetus is at least 22 weeks and, in connection therewith, making it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine to perform or attempt to perform a prohibited abortion, except when the abortion is immediately required to save the life of the pregnant woman or when her life is physically threatened.”
The news, first reported Friday in The Sun’s politics and policy newsletter, The Unaffiliated, further complicates O’Dea’s portrayal of himself as an abortion-rights Republican. Proposition 115 failed 59% to 41%, an 18 percentage point margin.
O’Dea, who is running to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, has said his position on abortion has changed since 2020, when he was a private citizen.
He told The Associated Press that he “didn’t look at all the nuances” of the 2020 measure.
O’Dea now says he believes abortions should be legal through 20 weeks of pregnancy, or five months, after which the procedure should be allowed only in cases of rape and incest or when a mother’s life is at risk or a fetus isn’t viable.
O’Dea also has said he would vote for a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade, the recently overturned U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed abortion access.
“Joe supports a woman’s right to choose in the first five months of pregnancy and opposes late-term abortion,” O’Dea’s spokesman, Kyle Kohli, told The Sun. “He’ll vote that way. There will be some who don’t agree with Joe’s well-established opposition to late-term abortion, just as there are Republicans who disagree with his support for abortion rights early on.”
O’Dea, a first-time candidate, has taken heat from fellow Republicans for supporting abortions at any time during a pregnancy. He has also been criticized by Democrats for voting for Proposition 115, a revelation that was first reported by The Sun, and for telling 9News that he wants to “negotiate a good bill that brings balance to women’s rights.”
Democrats have run a host of TV ads attacking O’Dea’s position on abortion, including an active $2.7 million campaign from a newly formed super PAC, 53 Peaks. That group spent another $200,000 on digital ads against O’Dea this week.
According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99% of abortions happen before the 21st week of pregnancy. Ninety-three percent of abortions happen during the first 13 weeks of a pregnancy, while 6% happen between 14 and 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says “with very rare exceptions, babies born before 23 weeks of pregnancy do not survive.”
O’Dea’s campaign said O’Dea isn’t planning to pursue abortion legislation if he’s elected to the Senate, but that the 20-week threshold — and the exceptions afterward he supports — is what he will use to determine whether or not he will vote “yes” on a bill in Congress.
Bennet, meanwhile, supports legislation prohibiting any government restrictions on abortion access, according to his campaign, including the Women’s Health Protection Act.