Pro-life Democrats make the case for a 22-week abortion ban in Colorado

By Kevin Jones/Catholic News Agency

As Colorado voters consider a ballot measure to ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, pro-life Democrats have been vocal in support, stressing its mainstream appeal and the need to give care to vulnerable human beings who can survive outside of the womb.

“When people realize abortion is allowed up to birth for any reason in Colorado most are shocked. People travel from all over the U.S. and even the world to Colorado to get late-term abortions,” Kristin Vail, vice president of Democrats for Life of Colorado, told CNA Oct. 19. “I don’t think people want our state to be known for that.”

“Every human has value and deserves to live free from violence. Late-term abortions are especially horrific because at 22 weeks fetuses can feel pain and can survive outside the womb with medical support,” Vail said. “Proposition 115 will save lives from abortion.”

Proposition 115 asks voters whether to ban abortion in the state after 22 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases where a mother’s life is threatened.

A 9 News / Colorado Politics survey of 1,021 registered likely voters found 42% of respondents said they are certain to vote yes on Proposition 115, 45% said no, while 13% are uncertain.

63% of Republicans said they would vote in favor of the ban, as did 28% of Democrats and 35% of unaffiliated voters. The survey was conducted by SurveyUSA in early October. It claims a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.9%.

For Vail, it’s an issue of justice. “Abortion is just oppression and violence redistributed to someone more vulnerable,” she told CNA.

“Pre-born children are the most vulnerable and voiceless in our society and they are being killed by the thousands every day. Quality healthcare should be provided for everyone, including both mother and child. When the main objective of a procedure is to end a human life, our healthcare system has failed,” Vail said.

Dr. Tom Perille, a retired physician and president of the Democrats for Life of Colorado, also backs the ballot measure.

“Prop. 115 should pass because it appeals to the moral sensibilities of Coloradans and reflects a popular consensus when abortion restrictions are appropriate,” he told CNA. “If a baby born prematurely at 22 weeks enjoys all the rights and privileges of other Colorado citizens and is protected by state/federal law, a fetus in utero at that exact same gestational age should not be able to be legally and cruelly killed. National and state polling suggests that a majority of people believe that abortion should be restricted after fetal viability.”

“Colorado has a long history of embracing abortion rights,” Perille continued. “However, Coloradans also understand science. Most Coloradans recognize that a 22-week fetus is a fully formed, if immature, human being. They are repulsed by those who refer to this vital human being as ‘pregnancy tissue.’ Coloradans are willing to accept reasonable restrictions on abortion after fetal viability.”

Perille stressed bipartisan support for the measure, saying nearly 19,000 Democrats signed the petition to place it on the state ballot. He suggested that efforts to raise public awareness about abortion after 22 weeks and Proposition 115 could push Democratic support for the measure above 33%.

During his time collecting signatures for the petition, Perille said a number of signers identified as pro-choice but thought abortions past 22 weeks were “simply too extreme.”

“I recall one woman, in particular, who said she was pro-choice, but quickly added that she was born prematurely at 28 weeks gestation. She knew what it was like to be born premature,” he said. “She was emphatic that at 22 weeks ‘It’s a baby’.”

“Democrats have historically championed the rights of the less privileged in society, those that are dehumanized, voiceless and marginalized. The viable fetus fits this description to a T. Democrats have lost their way on this issue, but at their core, they still believe in fighting for the little guy,” said Perille.

If the ballot measure passes, doctors would face a three-year license suspension for performing or attempting to perform an abortion of an unborn child beyond 22 weeks of gestation. Women would not be charged for seeking or obtaining an illegal abortion.

In 1984 Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment banning public funding of abortions except to prevent the death of the mother. In 1998 they passed an initiative requiring parental consent and a waiting period for minors who seek abortions.

“We have had to endure a tidal wave of misinformation from our opposition on social media and TV fueled by millions of dollars from the abortion industry – who stand to lose the most if Prop 115 passes,” said Perille, who made a medical case against late-term abortion.

“If a woman encounters a pregnancy related health issue after 22 weeks, fetal viability, she may need to have her baby urgently or emergently delivered, but there is no reason or rationale to kill the baby,” said Perille. “In fact, a late abortion for an urgent or emergent pregnancy related health issue would be considered medical malpractice. It takes 30 minutes to deliver the baby and 2-4 days to perform a late abortion procedure.”

Prenatal screening for genetic and other fetal abnormalities takes place “well before 22 weeks,” he said. While it is a “very rare situation” where fetal diagnosis is not discovered until 22 weeks into pregnancy, Perille said pre-natal hospice offers “ a compassionate, life-affirming alternative to late abortion” with better outcomes for the woman’s mental health and bereavement.

Kristen Day, president of the Democrats for Life of America, told CNA the group’s Colorado chapter has distributed 15,000 brochures to Democratic voters to make the case for Proposition 115. The chapter organized a rally and phone calls.

Day said opposition to late-term abortion is very much a majority position.

“Even Democrats oppose late-term abortion. 82% of Democrats and 77% of independents and 94% of Republicans oppose third trimester abortions,” she said. “It’s a very mainstream position.”

“It makes a lot of sense, especially from a Democrat perspective. We believe in healthcare for all, and making sure that everybody has the opportunity to receive live-giving care,” Day continued. “When we’re talking about a baby who is 22 weeks and could survive outside of the womb if given appropriate health care, it makes very little sense that we would end that life.”

“We care about the babies but we also care about the mothers as well. Let’s choose both. Protect both,” she said.

Given Colorado’s role as a strongly Democratic state and its role in passing the first law to legalize abortion in 1967, Day said passage of a late-term abortion ban would be “huge.”

“A lot of people will vote for Prop 115 and also vote for Joe Biden,” she said.

Other abortion-related measures have not succeeded. The 2008 and 2010 Colorado ballots included two slightly different personhood initiatives, which tried to define a person under state law to include every human being from the moment of fertilization or “from the beginning of biological development,” respectively. The 2008 proposal won under 27% approval from voters, while the 2010 proposal received under 30% of votes.

Colorado Right to Life opposes Proposition 115 on the grounds it only regulates abortion and implicitly permits most abortions. The group is a former affiliate of National Right to Life, but broke from the national organization in 2007 over philosophical differences and the Colorado group’s criticism of a partial-birth abortion Supreme Court decision.

Backers of Proposition 115 told CNA that the overwhelming majority of pro-life voters are with them.

Some 24 U.S. states limit abortion based on gestational age.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat elected to office with strong support from legal abortion advocates, has argued that the ballot measure would be overruled by Supreme Court precedents like Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

“It’s hard to see this ban being upheld,” he told Colorado Public Radio. He argued it would be an undue burden on a woman to carry a child conceived in rape or incest.

Dr. Kristina Tocce, vice president and medical director of abortion provider Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, was also critical of the measure.

“Decisions around pregnancy must be made by a patient, their family, and in consultation with physicians, without political influence, because an all or nothing model of health care is not acceptable and especially not with the complexities of pregnancy,” she said.

Tocce said it is misleading to argue that fetuses are viable at 22 weeks into pregnancy. “There’s not a viability switch, that automatically gets flipped at 22 weeks or any gestational age for that matter because each pregnancy is unique and medical circumstances differ from patient to patient,” she told Colorado Public Radio, which reported 38% of babies born at 22 weeks survive after given intensive care.

The Catholic bishops of Colorado, the Catholic Medical Association, and a group of more than 130 medical professionals and scientists in Colorado have backed Proposition 115.

“Rest assured that your ‘Yes’ to Proposition 115 will have innumerable consequences for the lives of many children who, within their mother’s womb, count on you for life,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila and Bishop Jorge Rodriguez said in a Sept. 27 letter to Hispanics in the Archdiocese of Denver.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”