The Pueblo City Council will vote on an anti-abortion ordinance during their upcoming work session on Dec. 12. Introduced by Councilor Regina Maestri, the ordinance passed its first reading during Monday’s Council meeting. The background paper, included in the meeting minutes, notes, “legal Staff does not recommend approval of this ordinance.”
Recently, Pueblo’s City Council meetings have been heavily attended by anti-abortion activists who oppose a new abortion clinic slated to open in the Bessemer neighborhood. Currently, patients seeking access to abortion care must drive an hour north to Colorado Springs.
The proposed ordinance cites federal obscenity laws passed in 1948 to empower “any person, other than the state, its political subdivisions, including the city Pueblo, and any officer or employee or agent of a state or local governmental entity in this state” to take civil action against abortion clinics that use the mail to receive any item “designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion.” Successful civil actions against abortion providers would lead to “statutory damages in an amount of not less than $100,000 for each violation.”
Abortion advocates question whether any kind of municipal ordinance that attempts to contravene Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act, which enshrines the right to an abortion in Colorado law, is legal.
“My understanding is that it will not hold up in court,” says Karen Middleton, president of abortion advocacy group Cobalt. “I do not believe that they can try to restrict access to abortion care, whether it’s through the ordinance or zoning or whatever they’re going to do. I do not believe that they can limit this kind of access by saying you can’t have access in the city.”
The debate around the CARE [Clinics for Abortion and Reproductive Excellence] clinic has galvanized both local and out-of-state anti-abortion activists.
Leading local efforts is Forging Pueblo, a group whose mission statement mirrors those of the Seven Mountain dominionists, and includes on its board of directors Tamra Axworthy, the executive director of Pueblo’s A Caring Pregnancy Center, an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center, and Rep. Stephanie Luck (R-Penrose).
Out-of-state activists include Mark Lee Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas and founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative. Dickson, a self-described “36-year-old virgin,” touted his success in convincing municipalities across the country to restrict abortion access, including recently in Hobbs, New Mexico.
“What we’re seeing [is that] over 60 cities throughout the United States have passed ordinances that address abortion access within their communities,” said Dickson during Monday’s council meeting. “The largest is Lubbock, Texas, population 264,000. The smallest is Impact, Texas, population 20. This is something that we’re seeing happening, not just in Texas, not just in Nebraska, Louisiana, Iowa, Ohio. We’re seeing it in New Mexico, and there is interest here in Pueblo, Colorado, because an abortionist in Bellevue, Nebraska, wants to move here and open up shop. Now, part of that is my fault. We started a petition to outlaw abortion in Bellevue, Nebraska, and within days of starting that petition, [Dr. LeRoy] Carhart started a GoFundMe page about moving to Pueblo, Colorado. The ordinance that has been given to you guys is an ordinance that has been drafted by the same attorney that has helped me in over 60 cities.”
Abortion advocates say that out-of-state activists like Dickson and the vocal crowd attending Pueblo City Council meetings are at odds with the will Pueblo’s voters. “It doesn’t hold up with the will of the voters that we’ve seen consistent polling from,” says Middleton. “The voters would not support this if it was put to a vote locally.”
Cidney Fisk, an abortion advocate with Cobalt, echoed Middleton’s sentiments during public comment. “Pueblo County directly voted down the 22-week abortion ban, Prop 115, in 2020 by 54.2%,” she said. “More impressively, Pueblo city voters voted it down by 14%. [U.S. Sen. Michael] Bennet won 53% of the vote. [U.S. Rep. candidate] Adam Frisch won [Pueblo County] by 53% of the vote and [Gov. Jared] Polis won 54% of the vote. Those are all pro-choice candidates. So, yes, there’s a lot of people in this room who are loud, but I’m telling you that they are a loud minority.”
Following public comment, Maestri defended her ordinance. “I am so glad to have met Mark Dixon,” she said. “You want to say he’s from Texas coming in here and invading — so are the abortion clinics. They’re not from Pueblo. When constituents approached me about their concerns with the clinic coming here, I gave them an ear, but in order to really fight this, I did have to bring in the top person in the country, because that came from a point of view from my constituents side who was pro-life. I consider myself to be pro-life. I’m just not a pro-life activist. It’s just my choice to give life over death.”
Councilor Sarah Martinez raised concerns about the legality of the ordinance and will of Pueblo voters. “I don’t understand how this is a city issue,” she said. “It’s a matter of statewide concern. We’ve learned that abortion access is protected by the Reproductive Health Equity Act at the state level, which means that municipalities like ours legally cannot supersede the state legislation. So then why are we spending time on this when we have so many other citywide concerns like freezing temperatures and violent crime? I also have looked into this and there have been three state-wide anti-abortion ballot measures, most recently in 2020, that have lost by big margins here in Pueblo, which means that the majority of Pueblo has repeatedly told us where they stand on this issue. They want abortion access.”
The Pueblo City Council will consider the ordinance during their Dec. 12 work session.