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Mark Hillman’s Capitol Review - Abortion bill illustrates growing polarization in politics

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PICT Politician - Mark Hillman
Mark Hillman

Democrats at the state legislature made a remarkable choice in recent weeks to burnish their “reproductive rights” bona fides by passing a bill that stakes out perhaps the most extreme position possible on abortion by explicitly depriving an unborn child of any legal rights whatsoever until the moment after birth.

A premature over-reaction to fears that the U.S. Supreme Court may strike down Roe v. Wade, the bill strangely ignores Colorado’s history as one of the most permissive in the nation on abortion. In 1967 – six years before Roe – Colorado became the first state in the union to make abortion legal. If Roe falls, abortion won’t become illegal. Instead, Colorado law will govern here.

Even without House Bill 1279, which Governor Polis will sign, Colorado is one of only a few states that puts no restrictions on when a woman may have an abortion. Since 2000, Colorado voters have rejected multiple pro-life ballot measures ranging from restrictions on late-term abortions to giving full legal rights to an unborn child.

Likewise, the legislature has repeatedly rejected anything that would impede, in even the slightest manner, a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

Colorado law places only two limitations on abortions – a requirement that parents of a minor who seeks an abortion be notified (including a fairly simple judicial bypass for a minor who doesn’t wish to notify her parents); and a prohibition against using taxpayer funds to pay for abortion.

Beyond that, Colorado law shows little regard for unborn human life. In fact, animals literally have more rights in Colorado than the unborn.

Colorado Revised Statutes define cruelty to animals as “deprives of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beats … mistreats or neglects any animal.” Animal cruelty begins as a misdemeanor, but aggravated animal cruelty, defined by severe, intentional mistreatment, is a felony.

Yet unwanted, unborn children can be disposed of in manners so inhumane that legislators on both sides of the issue understandably cringe at hearing them described. All that matters under Colorado law, is that the mother of the child no longer wants that child.

When I served in the Colorado Senate, a bill that I sponsored added to Offenses Against Pregnant Women the crime of unlawful termination of a pregnancy – such as in cases when a woman is attacked by someone who intends to cause the death of her unborn child. For clarity, the bill specifically excluded any medical procedure for which the mother gave her consent.

Although the bill passed overwhelmingly (29-6 in the Senate, 57-6 in the House), I was puzzled by the “no” votes, so I asked a couple senators why they dissented. One told me he voted no because the bill was a step toward “fetal personhood” – recognizing that an unborn child is a person with rights.

Departing from the substance of that bill, I asked, “Isn’t there some point in a pregnancy when ending the life of the unborn child should require more than the sole decision of the mother?” He answered sincerely that he had never contemplated that question.

We must contemplate that question because the rights of an unborn child surely outweigh the rights of our pets. We live in a state that is reluctant to end abortion, but public opinion is far more centrist than this soon-to-be law.

In three polls over the past six months, those who say abortion should always be legal range from 29% to 33%. In each poll, 11% say abortion should always be illegal. That leaves almost three out of five Americans who believe abortion should be legal only within certain boundaries.

Proponents credit themselves with protecting the rights of women, but apart from denying the humanity of the unborn and guarding against the heretofore non-existent possibility that some local community may pass a pro-life ordinance, they blazed no new trails.

In a country and state longing for a common-sense consensus, this bill is mostly another symbolic battle in the winner-take-all culture wars.

Mark Hillman served as Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer. To read more or comment, go to