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Roe v. Wade opinion leak has Colorado’s abortion rights supporters on defense

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Eli Imadali/For CPR News/Eli Imadali
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Colorado Public Radio
Jess Haag, with “choice” painted on her face, cheers during a rally at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, a day after a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 guaranteed legal access to abortion in the country, was leaked.

This story was originally published by Colorado Public Radio.

Abortion-rights supporters took to Colorado streets en masse Tuesday to protest a leaked Supreme Court opinion that suggests justices will soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the half-century-old legal precedent that makes abortion access a constitutional right.

Rallies sprung up throughout the day in Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, and Denver. Attendees ranged from state lawmakers to local advocates and everyday people, who gave passionate speeches about the implications of removing protections guaranteed by the 1973 ruling.

At an afternoon rally on the steps of the State Capitol, Tezcatli Diaz raised a bullhorn and addressed a crowd of around 100 people. As she spoke, she pointed to her infant daughter, who was held by a spectator in the audience.

“I understand why life is precious and I can never deny the complexities of choice because of it,” she said. “But these are our choices to be had.”

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
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Abortion rights supporters gathered on the state Capitol steps in Denver on Tuesday after a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court called for overturning Roe vs. Wade.

Throughout the rally, Democratic state lawmakers emerged from their chambers to admonish the leaked Roe opinion. Some used the moment as a rallying cry for Democrats ahead of this fall’s midterm elections.

“These Republicans are trying to overturn our rights across the state and the country,” said Lafayette Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis. “Our Senate margin is razor thin. If we don’t turn out, we lose the Senate.”

Jaquez Lewis and other Democrats highlighted their work on the recently-passed Reproductive Health Equity Act, which codified the right to an abortion into state law. Democrats passed the bill in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe.

Still, the removal of federal protections leaves the state law vulnerable to future restrictions on abortion providers, said Sen. Julie Gonzales, one of REA’s sponsors.

“What this means is that we’re going to now have to use all the tools in our toolbox to protect our rights,” Gonzales said. “I'm a little tired of having to be this resilient, but we'll be resilient because our ancestors have fought for us to be here in this moment so that our future generations can not only survive, but thrive, y’all.”

Pro-choice advocates grew emotional as they shared their stories about seeking abortions in places where the procedure is outlawed.

Carla Gonzalez Garcia, a Denver women’s rights activist, said that restricting access to abortions would hurt lower-income women who can’t afford to travel to states where the procedure is legal. She said she got an abortion in Peru, where the procedure is illegal.

“You have no freaking idea the terror I had on the bed not knowing if I would wake up in the minutes after my abortion,” she said. “The only thing that illegal abortions do is kill people.”

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
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Abortion rights supporters gathered on the state Capitol steps in Denver on Tuesday after a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court called for overturning Roe vs. Wade.

As the afternoon stretched on, the rally outside the Capitol grew to more than 1,000 attendees. It drew people on both sides of the issue, with abortion rights opponents carrying banners displaying images of what they claimed to be aborted fetuses.

Republican lawmakers were largely absent from Tuesday’s demonstrations. In online statements, many expressed support for the Supreme Court’s opinion.

“Countless lives have been saved,” said Kristi Burton Brown, chairwoman of Colorado’s GOP, in a statement posted to Facebook. “Equal rights are not equal until they extend to every human being.”

Jeff Hunt, the co-chair of the Western Conservative Summit and leader of other conservative political advocacy groups, told CPR News that he and his peers will now focus resources on challenging Colorado’s state abortion protections, especially the recently-passed REA.

“For a state to write into law that a certain class of people do not have rights in the state is something that I think broadly has constitutional problems,” Hunt said.

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Eli Imadali/For CPR News/Eli Imadali
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Colorado Public Radio
Mar Perez listens to a speaker and holds her one-year-old daughter, Sara Sorensen, during a rally at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, a day after a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 guaranteed legal access to abortion in the country, was leaked.

In more conservative parts of the state, rallies were smaller. In Grand Junction, about a hundred people gathered outside the Mesa County Courthouse Tuesday evening to protest and share their own stories about seeking abortions.

Laura Carlson, who brought several handmade signs, said she wanted to make clear that abortion rights advocates exist even in conservative parts of the state.

“I think in a community like this maybe it's even more important to come out and say that not everyone feels that way,” she said. “Not everyone agrees with what the Supreme Court is apparently going to do.”

In Colorado Springs, a small, but animated group of abortion rights supporters carried signs and chanted at passing cars.

“I’m sick of the surprises,” said Beth Lemensany, one of the attendees. “These are basic human rights that we have to fight for every single day.”

Many advocates said they expect to see more women from out of state seeking abortions here in the future.

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