During a legislative hearing last week on a bill that would increase abortion access for survivors of sexual violence, a prominent Colorado Catholic Church leader spoke out in opposition, saying that “abortion after rape and incest turns one victim into two.”

Colorado’s Catholic Church is typically on the front lines of the fight against abortion rights, but its vocal opposition to this particular bill is notable considering its highly troubling and well-documented history of child sexual abuse.

“There’s never been and never will be a legitimate need to abort a baby in the womb,” said Brittany Vessely, the Executive Director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s Catholic bishops. “The church teaches that through mercy and love, a nonviolent solution for both the mother and the child is far superior to helping a victim of violence, the raped woman, commit violence against her own child through abortion.” 

The bill in question makes a minor change to the state’s ban on public funding for abortion. Medicaid patients are typically ineligible for abortion coverage due to federal and state laws that ban the use of public funds for the procedure, except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Colorado law imposes an additional barrier by restricting the types of facilities where Medicaid patients who qualify for abortion coverage because of rape or incest can get care.

As a result, the only facility where Medicaid patients who are seeking abortion after experiencing sexual violence is in Denver, creating a major obstacle for those who live in the state’s rural and mountain communities.

“This is a small set of patients, but for this set of patients, this is an incredibly meaningful barrier to access,” said Jack Teter, Regional Director of Government Affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, in an interview with the Colorado Times Recorder earlier this year. “For a sexual violence survivor who uses Medicaid and lives in Cortez, that’s a six and a half hour drive over a literal mountain range in order to use insurance benefits that that patient already has.”

“The act of rape and incest is a grave injustice that claims too many people, most often women and children, as victims,” Vessely said at the hearing. “Victims of rape and incest deserve immediate medical, emotional, and spiritual care. However, if a child is conceived in pregnancy caused by rape and incest, then this child is just as innocent and precious as the woman who was victimized, and the child should not be killed because of the actions of a rapist. Abortions after rape and incest turn one victim into two.”

The bill ultimately advanced out of the state Senate Health and Human Services committee.

In December, an investigation from the Colorado Attorney General’s office concluded that 52 Colorado priests abused at least 212 children between 1950 and 2000. In 113 of those cases, the abuse happened after the church had been warned of prior misconduct by the priest in question. The church paid out $7.3 million in settlements to victims as a result.

Some advocates have argued that the investigation didn’t go far enough, pointing out that while the names of abusive priests were released, the names of church officials who covered up abuse allegations were not.