Last night the Pueblo City Council voted 4-3 to table a proposed anti-abortion ordinance that would have allowed civil penalties of up to $100,000 against Pueblo abortion providers.
Councilors Heather Graham, Sarah Martinez, Vicente Martinez Ortega, and Dennis Flores voted to table the ordinance, and Regina Maestri, the ordinance’s sponsor, Lori Winner, and Larry Atencio voted against tabling the measure.
During the work session prior to the vote, Pueblo City Council heard from Mark Lee Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas and founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative, and lawyers Josh Craddock and Jonathan Mitchell, the former Texas solicitor general and one of the authors of the “Texas Heartbeat Act,” which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Dickson, Craddock, and Mitchell argued that the proposed ordinance, which cites the archaic and largely unenforced federal Comstock obscenity laws, supersedes Colorado state law and the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA).
Pueblo City Council then heard from Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo), one of the prime sponsors of RHEA, and Pueblo City Attorney Daniel Kogovsek, who argued that the Comstock laws underpinning the Pueblo ordinance were unconstitutional and at odds with Colorado law.
“No one should have the most personal medical decisions controlled by politicians, neighbors, or complete strangers,” said Esgar. “That’s exactly what’s been happening across the country. As of June of this year alone, 774 provisions have been introduced that would restrict access to reproductive health or curtail rights. Five hundred fifty-two provisions have been introduced that would restrict access to abortion; 634 provisions restricting access to abortions have been enacted since the beginning of 2011. Those provisions include criminal charges, civil charges like the one in this ordinance, and mandatory reporting of individuals who have an abortion.”
Before voting, Pueblo City Council President Heather Graham took the opportunity to offer a pointed critique of the ordinance. “Certain people in our city government have no care for citizens they elected to represent,” she said. “We have so many people who would be affected by this ordinance, but certain elected officials simply don’t care who they run over if it benefits their agenda. We stood up here as a city council of Pueblo. Our job is to keep the community safe with police and fire and hold financial responsibility to the citizens of Pueblo. A quick rundown of what our objectives include: modernize city facilities and infrastructure, including the police and court buildings. Improve the condition and quality of city streets and parks. Add more and upgrade our fire stations. Create an atmosphere where citizens take pride in Pueblo, our city. Celebrate our cultural diversity. Have the City Council present a positive image as leaders. Keep citizens well informed on city issues, policies, and programs. Create strong partnerships with our community and our other governments. Improve cooperation with the county and school district. Recognize common goals and direction for the Greater Pueblo community. Better utilize civic and business organizations and better understand the relationship between the City of Pueblo and the Pueblo community. What is not our job is to govern abortion paraphernalia because that is all this ordinance intends to do. The clinic is open and I’m sure will remain open even if this was to pass. This is not going to do away with any clinic. Are we really going to require the U.S. Postal Service to open up packages to our clinic or hospitals in Pueblo to make sure none of the paraphernalia is in there? That is not our job.”
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser reaffirmed his commitment to defending Colorado law. “I welcome the Pueblo City Council’s decision to respect Colorado law and not take action that would interfere with access to legal and safe abortion care,” he said in a statement. “As I have stated, I stand ready to challenge any action by local governments that would undermine the Reproductive Health Equity Act and Coloradans’ commitment to protecting access to reproductive health care.”
Cobalt, an abortion advocacy group, also praised the decision of the Pueblo City Council. “We’re pleased that Pueblo tabled this anti-abortion ordinance,” read a statement posted to Twitter. “It was in direct violation of not only Colorado law protecting abortion, RHEA, but also goes against what Coloradans and Puebloans have made clear they want: access to abortion free from government interference. Colorado voters have repeatedly opposed attempts to restrict abortion by wide margins and consistently vote for candidates who will protect their reproductive freedom. Listen to the will of the voters. Coloradans, including Puebloans, overwhelmingly support abortion access and reject abortion bans. Personhood amendments have failed roughly 70-30 three times. In 2020 the city of Pueblo rejected the abortion ban Proposition 115 by 14 points, and more people voted to oppose Prop 115 than voted for President or US Senate.”