In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court opinion that likely indicates Roe v. Wade’s imminent demise, Colorado Democrats’ passage of the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA) appears especially timely. Enshrining abortion access in state law won’t just protect Coloradans but residents of red states where officials have been champing at the bit for decades to ban abortion but for the federal protections of Roe.
Local lawmakers weren’t the only Coloradans fighting for Americans’ rights when it comes to reproductive health. Since taking office in 2018, Attorney General Phil Weiser has taken numerous actions on behalf of the cause. One was joining an amicus brief to uphold Roe v. Wade by challenging the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban at issue in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case addressed by Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft opinion.
On behalf of Colorado, Weiser also joined a trio of lawsuits defending reproductive rights. The office first opposed the Trump administration’s so-called “Title X gag rule” to prevent health care providers who receive federal funding from referring patients for an abortion or even discussing it as an option. Just weeks later, the AG’s office joined another legal challenge, this time to Trump’s restrictions on birth control. A third lawsuit questioned the constitutionality of a federal rule allowing medical providers to deny services to patients based on personal beliefs or moral convictions.
In addition to the previously mentioned Dobbs amicus, Weiser also signed on to four other briefs for cases challenging various state laws designed to restrict women’s access to abortion care, including a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have hospital admission privileges, effectively reducing the number of providers in the state to a single doctor. He also repeatedly opposed Texas’ egregious SB8 abortion ban as it worked its way through the court system. SB8 has caused Colorado providers to serve many more patients who must leave their home state to get an abortion, forced travel which at times has endangered the life of the woman.
18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner, Weiser’s Republican challenger this fall, has dismissed the Attorney General’s choices of lawsuits and briefs, accusing him of “being driven by politics rather than public safety.”
In a March 26 interview with conservative talk show host Jimmy Sengenberger, Kellner said that if elected he’d focus instead on “securing the southern border.”
“I think that’s a key distinction between someone like me and someone like our current attorney general who I think is largely driven by politics rather than public safety,” said Kellner. “I think we will be hard pressed to see someone like Phil Weiser challenging the Biden administration on their lax approach to enforcing the laws at the southern border. We saw Mr. Weiser would file any and all kinds of cases against the Trump administration, but we don’t hear him — or our governor for that matter — talking about our state’s interest in securing that border to protect our citizens. That’s something that I am absolutely willing to do is to bring that fight.”
Weiser’s decision to repeatedly put the weight of Colorado’s top law enforcement agency towards the defense of abortion care as much as any other issue is largely a function of the Trump administration and Republican state legislatures’ relentless assault on reproductive rights. But with Roe v. Wade poised to fall, those efforts are notable not only for the policies they impacted but also politically.
Colorado reproductive health care advocacy group Cobalt praised Weiser in an endorsement in January, calling him “a strong, committed champion for abortion access and reproductive rights.”
Cobalt president Karen Middleton also challenged Kellner to make his position public.
“John Kellner, a largely untested candidate with just one year as a DA, represents a threat to abortion rights at time when Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance,” said Middleton. “Coloradans simply cannot trust Kellner to stand up for their rights if Roe is gutted or overturned in the next few months. The last Republican AG candidate, George Brauchler, said Republicans need to clearly declare their position on abortion rights. We have heard none of that from Kellner.”
Kellner hasn’t yet addressed the issues of abortion or reproductive rights directly, but he may not be able to avoid it much longer, as it’s not only pro-choice advocates wondering what he thinks.
Earlier this week, his fellow Republican candidate Heidi Ganahl, who’s trying to win the party’s nomination for governor, essentially volunteered Kellner to help her overturn RHEA, which she calls “disgusting.”
“I think we should do every single thing we can to overturn that law, and as governor I will fight to do that, Ganahl told radio host Ryan Schuiling. “Hopefully I’ll have the legislature to help me do that as well, and a good attorney general – um, go John Kellner!”
Kellner’s campaign did not respond to a Colorado Times Recorder inquiry as to which lawsuits or amicus briefs he believes are less important than “securing the southern border.” This article will be updated with any response received.