It was a short footnote to the state Department of Higher Education appropriations nestled deep in the sprawling 600-plus page $26.8 billion state budget proposal — but it made a splash, just as sponsor Rep. Dave Williams, a freshman Colorado Springs Republican, surely knew it would.
“Amendment 40” would have stripped funds from Colorado public universities that “engage in sale, purchase, trafficking, or trading in aborted baby body parts.”
“It’s a simple suggestion footnote,” said Williams at the front of the chamber. “We should not be funding with taxpayer dollars universities that are trafficking in aborted baby body parts. What we do here today matters. This is evil.
“We have to stand up against abortionists who want to make a profit,” he said. “We will be judged in this life and the next.”
Williams was riffing off videos taped surreptitiously of Planned Parenthood staffers in 2015 that suggested the organization was selling tissue from aborted fetuses and that Colorado State University was purchasing the tissue for research.
Anti-abortion groups lauded the videos as brave investigative work; Republican presidential primary candidates seized on the material; and conservatives on Capitol Hill launched hearings and ramped up calls to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding — calls that continue today.
In Colorado Springs, Rep. Williams’s home town, a man apparently motivated by the videos shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three and injuring nine in a standoff that lasted hours. “No more baby parts,” the shooter reportedly said after his arrest. In a court appearance, he called himself “a warrior for the babies.”
But the initial powerful impact of the videos became blunted in the months after they aired and the facts they purported to show became muddy. Officials investigating the videos found they had been heavily edited and that Planned Parenthood did nothing illegal. Colorado Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman declined to pursue the allegations. Mainstream news outlets discounted them as tendentious and unreliable.
The Williams footnote was ruled out of order for attempting to make substantive law beyond the scope of the budget bill.