Holy Week 2014 in Denver was one for the books as 1,000 Catholics and pro-life supporters April 15 prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet in front of the Colorado State Capitol with Archbishop Charles J. Aquila and Father Ambrose Omayas, assistant administrator of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver.
Praying in opposition to the Reproductive Health Freedom Act — a bill that sought to impact pro-life legislation, both old and new, and that would have precluded any regulations already on the books regarding abortion clinics — their peaceful protest ended in victory as Senate Bill 14-175 was struck down the following day.
Supported by NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado and Planned Parenthood, the bill — described by those touting it as the first of its kind in the nation — would have established a fundamental right to abortion and prevented the state from creating new laws that deny or interfere with access to anything deemed related to reproductive health care.
“In just a few days we were able to raise a united front in opposition to Senate Bill 175 and in defense of unborn children, the most innocent of all people,” Archbishop Aquila wrote in a pastoral letter April 16. “Congratulations to the people of good will throughout Colorado who listened to God’s call to be active in politics and to defend life at every stage!”
At Mass on April 13, Archbishop Aquila said the bill “would prevent lawmakers from enacting laws such as ultrasound requirements, certain health code regulations for abortion facilities or waiting periods for those who are considering an abortion.”
“It also has the potential to do away with Colorado’s parental notification law, which requires that parents be notified when their child is thinking of having an abortion,” he said. “Beyond that, if sex education in public schools is considered reproductive health care then parents may forfeit their right to opt their children out of the classes. For those of you who are parents it is critical for you to understand that this bill is undermining your authority and responsibility as parents.
“Proponents of 175 argue that their ability to access contraception and abortion would be in danger if this bill is not passed, but during testimony on the bill not a single person in favor of the bill, and there were few present, would cite an instance of not having access to contraception or abortion,” he added. “In other words, this bill is not needed and will only serve to strengthen the hand of those who promote a culture of death, of those who promote totalitarianism of those who want to strengthen their bottom line at the expense of the innocent.”
Call to action
On April 14, less than 24 hours prior to the Senate bill’s reading, Archbishop Aquila called for witnesses to life to come pray with him at the State Capitol.
“I have just decided to head to the west steps of the capitol Tuesday, April 15, at 3 p.m. — the Hour of Divine Mercy — to beg God for his intercession so that this legislation is stopped,” the letter read. “I prayerfully ask that those of you who can, will come and join me.”
More than 1,000 faithful showed up, according to archdiocesan officials.
“We have to stand for life,” said Melissa Montoya, 60, of Northglenn, Colo. “We have to do it at whatever level we can.”
The bill was abandoned soon after the Senate gallery overlooking the voting floor filled up with about 150 of those who attended the prayer rally. Democrats hold a one-seat advantage in the Colorado Senate, but reports indicated several Democrats were uncertain on their stance toward the bill. All Senate Republicans reportedly planned to vote against the bill.
Fearing they didn’t have the votes for the bill to pass, the bill was never brought up for a vote.
“They didn’t feel they had 18 votes. They need 18 votes to get it passed,” said Sen. Kent D. Lambert, R-Colorado Springs.
The scope of the generic term “reproductive health information” was one aspect legislators were concerned about, stating that some sex trafficking concerns and investigations would be hampered by such a bill, in addition to the fact that filters on computers in public schools and libraries might then be done away with as pornography could also be considered reproductive information and unregulated under the bill as it stood.
“(This) could also legalize child pornography because it prevents the government from restricting access to information on human sexuality,” Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said in a text message.
The bill itself only numbered three pages, with a summary of only five lines: “The bill prohibits a state or local policy that denies or interferes with an individual’s reproductive health care decisions or a state or local policy regarding reproductive health care that is inconsistent with, or that denies or interferes with access to information based on, current evidence-based scientific data and medical consensus.”
The visual of more than 1,000 pro-lifers on the steps of the Capitol — with seminarians, priests and key bishops — was enough to move the vote, many said.
“What (Democrats) ran into was a firestorm of public dissent. Period,” Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, told the Denver Post. “A firestorm of public opposition to this political hatchet job is what Senate Bill 175 was. They got called on it.”
Along with the rally, others flooded senators with phone calls and let their voices be heard in face-to-face opposition in Senate hallways before and after each session while they waited for the bill to be read.
At the rally, Archbishop Aquila told the crowd he had heard from many who did not even know who their senators were and said people need to better educate themselves on politics.
Opponents of the bill, however, know the pro-life movement must continue to fight.
“We don’t want to stop cold turkey,” said Denver Catholic Catie Weasler, who attended both the rally outside the Capitol and the anticipated hearing on the Senate floor. “We want to continue forward for life. This should be the impetus to do something more.”
Anna Maria Basquez writes from Colorado.