America has been given a hard lesson in how fragile individual rights can be in the hands of ideological actors in positions of power. Just four months ago, abortion was a constitutional right in America. Today, thanks to six conservative judges on the Supreme Court, it is not. But the hardest lesson came in the form of false promises made during the Senate confirmation hearings of these judges over the past thirty years, most infamously by Justice Brett Kavanaugh who vowed that he considered Roe v. Wade to be “settled law” before voting to trash it.
Kavanaugh’s words serve as a warning to anyone considering the vague reassurances on abortion rights from political actors seeking higher office. In Colorado, District Attorney John Kellner is seeking a promotion to Attorney General, promising voters that he would defend Colorado’s homegrown laws protecting access to abortion and contraception. After all, as he says, the attorney general should defend Colorado’s laws.
The problem, however, is that Kellner has also said that he agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and revert what was a constitutional right back to the whims of red states already banning the procedure where they have legislative majorities.
What Kellner is telling us is that he is perfectly comfortable with a right-wing Supreme Court overturning 50 years of judicial precedent and letting power-hungry politicians make medical decisions for women and other people who can become pregnant. Kellner is also willing to accept ideological decisions from a Supreme Court majority that was secured by blockading an appointment from President Barack Obama and then a blitz confirmation of Donald Trump’s nominee just weeks before Republicans would lose the 2020 election.
And more than other politicians, the men and women serving as attorney general have the power to enforce the laws regarding abortion access. We are already seeing attorneys general in other states taking this power to extremes. The Indiana attorney general threatened a doctor for treating a 10-year-old rape victim – a child! – who had crossed state lines to seek abortion care.
Right now, Colorado has a pro-abortion rights attorney general in Phil Weiser who can plainly state that he believes the case overturning Roe was wrongly decided and has pledged the full weight of his office to protect abortion rights. John Kellner is asking us to believe that we have nothing to fear in this matter if he’s in the same position, because as he says, the attorney general should defend Colorado’s laws. But when pressed in a recent candidate debate, Kellner could not answer “yes” to a simple, clear question: does he support a woman’s right to choose?
Kellner has also been standing shoulder to shoulder with the candidates of his party for governor and the state legislature who are opponents of Colorado’s abortion laws. At the Colorado GOP’s unity press conference in August, Kellner even introduced his party’s candidate for governor, Heidi Ganahl, who made a public showing of ripping apart Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act. Just as Justice Kavanaugh proved, abortion rights are settled law until politicians decide to unsettle them.
What John Kellner is now asking us to do is trust him. Trust him to defend Colorado’s abortion rights laws, as he campaigns with the people trying to overturn them, and he refused to affirm a pregnant person’s fundamental right to decide to obtain an abortion. Trust him to stand up to local district attorneys of his own party should they try and audition for a spotlight on Fox News and persecute a woman seeking an abortion or a doctor providing one. And trust him to defend Colorado’s laws in federal court, even though he has criticized Attorney General Phil Weiser for doing exactly that.
This election, Colorado voters need to decide that something as important and threatened as the fundamental right to one’s own bodily autonomy isn’t worth gambling on someone who could not answer a simple debate question: do you support a woman’s right to choose?
Dani Newsum is the director of strategic partnerships at Cobalt, a non-profit organization dedicated to abortion access and reproductive rights.