Middleton: Why attacking reproductive freedom in Colorado is backfiring

Author: Karen Middleton - April 30, 2016 - Updated: May 2, 2016

NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado executive director Karen Middleton
NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado executive director Karen Middleton

An interesting thing happened on the way to NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado’s 2016 Annual Gala and Silent Auction: after an escalation of both physical and legislative attacks on reproductive rights over the past year, it turned into one of our biggest events ever in terms of attendance. We included a very special award to Vicki Cowart and in honor of the staff of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains for their leadership and literal courage under fire after the domestic terrorism attack on the Colorado Springs clinic. They truly embody their motto, care “no matter what.”

Our event’s success reflects what we know: Colorado is a pro-choice state, and we have been since before NARAL was founded 40 years ago. Thanks to the bipartisan leadership and courage of then-state Sens. Dick Lamm and John Bermingham, and a Republican governor named John Love, Colorado was the first state to allow safe, legal abortion — in 1967, six years before the Roe v. Wade decision. And shortly after that, also in 1967, the Colorado Association for the Study of Abortion, the precursor to NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, as it is known today, was founded.

Colorado’s leading the way on abortion rights affected public policy nationwide as well. In an article covering the 1967 Colorado bill, the Wall Street Journal remarked that “the stage appears set for a major national overhaul of abortion laws.” The American Medical Association subsequently changed its nearly century-old position to allow for safe, legal abortion as a medical practice.

Colorado has changed in both population and demographics since then, but our fundamental belief in the right to privacy has not. Beyond privacy, Colorado has explicitly voted down efforts to define “personhood,” which would have created a ban on abortions — not once, but three times between 2008-2014.

Despite these affirmations in law and at the ballot box, we see continued threats to our privacy and reproductive freedom. As Sen. Bermingham, now 92, puts it, the attacks he’s seeing now are as bad or worse than the ones from 50 years ago. Reproductive freedom for women continues to be in the crosshairs, both in Colorado and nationally.

We’ve seen multiple bills this session trying to take away our fundamental right to choose and attempting to ban abortion, establish personhood and restrict the use of certain forms of birth control. We’ve seen bills suggesting increased regulation of abortion clinics, mandatory waiting periods and transvaginal ultrasounds. We’ve seen bills introducing fetal personhood into Colorado statutes, even though voters have defeated it at the ballot box three straight times.

Most of these bills aren’t even from Colorado — these ideas can be linked back to national organizations that are credited with producing volumes of model legislation that is being introduced across the states. They are a product of national anti-choice legislation mills in Washington, D.C., attempting to overturn Roe v. Wade at the state level by regulating it out of existence. We detailed these groups in our January report, “Against Our Will: How National Anti-Choice Groups Are Targeting the Pro-Choice Majority in Colorado.”

As NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado looks forward, we are driven by the belief in reproductive freedom. Protecting abortion rights and taking away abortion stigma is the cornerstone. Our work today encompasses the entire spectrum of reproductive rights, economic fairness and opportunity, and equality for all Coloradans. Access to reproductive health care, fair pay and family leave, eliminating racial profiling, and supporting non-discrimination and economic opportunity for Coloradans are all foundational to what we do.

Colorado is growing more diverse by the day. NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado will fight for public policies that reflect our fundamental pro-choice values and oppose those that do not. And we will hold legislators accountable. We know the voters are with us, and we want to engage them this year to be sure their voices and their votes are heard.

We will Educate voters. We will Elect public officials who share our values. We will Empower women and families to make their own choices. And we will Elevate our collective voice in this state.

Karen Middleton

Karen Middleton

Karen Middleton, a former Democratic state representative from Aurora, is executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado.