Plenty of evidence exists for Colorado being largely pro-abortion rights — right down to the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.
Businessman Joe O’Dea won the GOP nomination convincingly in June, boosted by established Republican politicians and hammering a message of economy, inflation and gas prices. He explicitly states he’s not running on what he calls social issues, and the issues page of his campaign website doesn’t explicitly mention abortion or any of its euphemisms — but it does feature an open letter from self-described pro-life leaders endorsing him.
But O’Dea is upfront about his beliefs when asked. He holds a more open position than others in his party who believe life begins at conception and want a ban on abortions. It’s led to opposition by some conservatives, including a primary election rival who wielded the issue like a cudgel.
O’Dea’s position on abortion rights is more limited than his general election opponent, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and recent state law that codifies the right to an abortion.
In all, abortion rights remain contentious in the state. Republican state lawmakers led an all-night filibuster earlier this year to fight a proposal to codify abortion access in state law; weeks later, supporters in the legislature snapped up front pages of newspapers to keep as mementos after Gov. Jared Polis signed it into law.
At the ballot box, voters are regularly asked to outright ban or put limits on the procedure. Backers of another such proposal have approval to gather signatures to ask voters again in 2022 to ban abortions. The most recent effort, 2020’s proposition 115, would have banned abortions after 22 weeks of gestation. Voters rejected it with 59% opposed.
The issue has also received new focus after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the right to an abortion as established in Roe vs. Wade, and kicked it down to states to decide. That decision prompted a new push for federal legislation governing its access.
So, where exactly does O’Dea stand on abortion rights?
O’Dea supports rights, restrictions aligned with Roe vs. Wade
In broad strokes, O’Dea supports the right to an abortion as initially laid out in the 1973 decision Roe vs. Wade. That decision, and others around it, generally allowed abortion up until fetal viability, though it didn’t specify when that is. The court also allowed some state-level restrictions
O’Dea has said an abortion early in the pregnancy is between a person and their doctor and God.
“I believe that decision is between a person and their God, not me,” O’Dea said during the Western Conservative Summit in June. “That’s not what government is designed to do. They shouldn’t be in the middle of that decision.”
In a June interview with Dan Caplis, a conservative talk show host, before the court officially ended the national right to an abortion, O’Dea said he’d vote for a policy that largely aligned with Roe vs. Wade. But, he had a few specific lines in the sand: No late-term, elective and non-medically necessary abortions and no taxpayer funding for the procedure. O’Dea also supports parental notification for minors receiving the procedure.
He didn’t specifically define when a pregnancy is late-term, but that people generally understand that to mean the third trimester, which is about 27 weeks into a pregnancy. There is no medical definition for late-term. O’Dea does support exemptions to that prohibition for cases of rape, incest and medical necessity.
“Joe’s opposition is to elective, non-medically necessary late-term abortion,” according to a statement from his campaign. “Limits on elective late-term abortion should give clear authority to women and doctors to make the difficult decision to end a pregnancy when there are health emergencies.”
Advocates: Bans on abortions later in pregnancy lead to confusion on “life or death” situations
In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 1% of all abortions happen after 21 weeks of gestation. A Kaiser Family Foundation report from that same year found that individuals who sought abortions that late did so out of medical concerns or due to barriers that prevented them from obtaining an abortion earlier in the pregnancy.
Limits on abortions later in the pregnancy don’t address the medical reality facing pregnant people, advocates with reproductive rights organization Cobalt said. Instead, they create confusion and anxiety for patients and providers unsure of or unable to use the full range of medical options, Cobalt Political Director Selina Najar said.
Cobalt officials said they’ve seen a surge in women from Texas seeking help securing the procedure. That includes cases where patients were having miscarriages that threatened their lives, but doctors wouldn’t induce abortions out of concerns about prohibitions in state law.
“The idea that providers are being asked to make these judgments that are really life or death situations is devastating, and it’s anxiety-inducing,” Najar said.
Cobalt was an early endorser of Bennet’s re-election campaign because of the sitting senator’s support for universal abortion rights.
In crafting limits to abortion access, O’Dea wouldn’t support any enforcement that would be punitive toward women seeking or receiving the care, according to his campaign.
O’Dea opposes the new state abortion law, and the federal law proposed by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
While O’Dea said he’d codify provisions in Roe vs. Wade, he has expressed opposition to two Democratic bills to codify abortion rights: the state Reproductive Health Equity Act and the federal Women’s Health Protection Act. Neither includes limits on abortion access.
O’Dea called a lack of limits on abortion in the state law “reckless.” He likewise opposes the lack of parental notification or religious exemptions for health care providers in the federal bill. The federal effort failed earlier this year on a largely party-line vote.
“Given that he has stated he opposes both (the recent state and federal abortion laws), the idea that he supports abortion rights is categorically false,” Najar said.
O’Dea has said that his support for Roe and related decisions is at least in part to maintain national stability on the issue.
“If Republicans are in control here in November, are we going to have a total ban, and then four years later when Democrats take over are we going to have abortion all the way up to and including the date of birth?” O’Dea said on the Caplis show. “I think our country needs to be able to depend on the decision and we need something that will allow us to move forward with balance.”
O’Dea, who was adopted at birth, also supports policies to encourage adoption, including adoption tax credits, direct grants to faith organizations for recruiting and supporting adopting parents and streamlining the process.
“If we want to move the country forward, we focus on adoption and make it so we don’t need abortion anymore and that can be a decision that each mother gets to make themselves,” O’Dea said on the Caplis show.
Soon after a draft opinion of the Supreme Court decision leaked in May, McConnell told USA TODAY that Republican pursuit of an abortion ban is “possible,” but that he wouldn’t change filibuster rules for the issue. After the decision was final, he said he doesn’t foresee Congress passing a national ban because there wouldn’t be 60 votes in the Senate for it.
But if McConnell had a majority, and the votes for it, Cobalt communications consultant Laura Chapin predicted there would be some kind of national curtailing of abortion rights.
“Policy is what matters here not his words, and he opposes the policies that protect abortion rights,” Najar said, citing O’Dea’s opposition to the state and federal efforts to codify the right to an abortion.
On primary election night, O’Dea said he would “stand up to the extremes” and wouldn’t vote along the party line. He said he would vote his conscience and be “more like a Republican Joe Manchin,” referring to the West Virginia Democrat who has become a deciding vote on much of his party’s overarching agenda.
O’Dea would have supported Trump’s Supreme Court picks. And at least one of Obama’s, too
Abortion access looms large over congressional races across the country. A recent Suffolk University/USA TODAY national poll found it was the top issue for 15.7% of voters — the second largest bloc, behind the 20% voters who stated the economy was the most important thing to their vote. It led among women, with 24% saying it was the most important issue to their vote. It did not specify if that was because respondents were for or against abortion rights.
However, Congress isn’t what eliminated the federal right to an abortion.
O’Dea would have supported all of President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominees, all three of whom were confirmed and were pivotal votes in the decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade.
That alone undercuts his stated positions, abortion rights advocates said.
“You can’t say you support Roe and then you would vote for the justices who overturned Roe,” Laura Chapin, Cobalt communications consultant, said.
However, O’Dea calls that another mark of “the political bloodsport surrounding the Supreme Court.” He pledged to support judges based on qualifications, record and temperament, and the understanding that their terms would include ruling on more issues than just abortion.
“I would have supported conservative justices including Neil Gorsuch, more centrist, institutionalist justices including John Roberts, and Democratically-appointed justices like Elena Kagan because they all had the qualifications, record, and temperament to serve,” O’Dea said in a statement. “These are justices from the three very distinct camps on the abortion question, but all clearly have the qualifications, record and temperament to serve on a body that decides thousands and thousands of cases and questions, not only abortion and social issues.”
Bennet, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate during President Barack Obama’s term, voted against Trump’s three nominations.
Since his time in the chamber, the fight over judicial nominations writ large has been a political battlefield. Facing Republican filibusters to Obama’s lower court judicial nominees in 2013, Bennet voted to change senate rules to allow a simple majority vote to confirm new judges other than those nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. In April 2017, with Trump newly in office, a Republican majority in the Senate and a vacant Supreme Court seat, the Senate again changed the rules to eliminate the filibuster and allow a simple majority to confirm new justices.
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