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Abortion-rights backers attack Colorado GOP legislators

NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado wants Dems in control of state Senate
Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, speaks at a rally at the Colorado Capitol in 2015, where abortion rights advocates called on Republicans to halt anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric. In 2016, the group is illuminating anti-abortion rights efforts by Republicans in the recent session of the General Assembly.

DENVER – Abortion-rights advocates hope to take back the Colorado Legislature this year by attacking Republicans for standing in the way of reproductive health care rights.

NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado this week highlighted two bills from the past legislative session that died in a Republican-controlled committee in the Senate.

One of those bills, which would have allowed women to receive a 12-month supply of birth control, had bipartisan support in the House, with Republican Rep. Don Coram of Montrose co-sponsoring it. But the bill died in a Republican “kill committee” in the Senate.

The other highlighted piece of legislation would have prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage or requiring a woman to pay out-of-pocket costs for all birth control.

In addition to the bills that died, Republicans came back with a handful of perennial bills that Democrats shot down, including fetal homicide legislation and making abortion illegal in the state.

“It’s clear where Senate Republicans stand on women’s reproductive rights,” said Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver. “But we held our own.”

It’s nothing new for the abortion debate to be used as a wedge during election season.

The debate is sure to come up in the U.S. Senate race, as Democrat Michael Bennet works to hold onto his seat. And Hillary Clinton has pointed to the issue on several presidential campaign stops through Colorado.

But the “war on women” narrative has had mixed results.

In the 2014 U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Mark Udall and Republican Cory Gardner, Gardner was attacked by the abortion rights world. He went on to defeat Udall.

Democrats had more success, however, in 2012 with the “war on women” theme, which may have contributed to taking back the Colorado House from Republican control.

They hope to use similar abortion rights messaging this year to take the state Senate back from Republicans, while maintaining control of the House.

“We’re going to tell the story about what’s happened to women’s rights, to women’s health care, and what is likely to happen if we’re not in the majority,” Guzman said during a NARAL conference call on Wednesday.

Abortion-rights advocates pointed to a listening session held by Republicans last year that was described as an informational event on fetal-tissue programs, but quickly turned into an attack of Planned Parenthood.

At issue was anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, which released videos last year that the group says showed Planned Parenthood profiting from fetal-tissue programs.

A Texas grand jury that investigated accusations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood stemming from the secretly recorded videos instead chose to indict the videographers on charges of tampering with a governmental record.

“These upcoming elections, it’s very important that people are educated about who is running and what their positions are when it comes to issues that impact women and their pro-choice agenda,” said House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran of Denver.

Recent high-profile cases offer a backdrop to the abortion debate this year.

In November 2015, a gunman targeted a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, killing three people, including a police officer. The admitted gunman this month was found incompetent to stand trial and indefinitely confined to a state mental hospital.

In March 2015, a Longmont woman’s 7-month-old fetus was cut from her womb by another woman. The woman convicted in the case was sentenced in April to 100 years in prison.

The anti-abortion community isn’t worried about backlash this year, even though Democrats plan to underscore the issue.

“Colorado Family Action knows that the people of Colorado are smart enough to discern a potential human rights violation,” said Sarah Zagorski, policy director for Colorado Family Action, which helped organize the fetal tissue listening session last year, and maintains that Planned Parenthood engages in illegal fetal-tissue programs, despite the Texas indictment.

“The overwhelming concern that government functions the way it is supposed to dictates that no person, no matter how small, should be subject to having their organs and appendages sorted out and sold for research. The people of Colorado can tell the truth from a lie and we trust them to do that in November.”