PUEBLO — On Monday Pueblo City Council passed a proposed ordinance that would essentially outlaw abortions within city limits, but opponents claim it will not hold up against state laws already in place.
The Reproductive Health Equity Act, signed into law in April 2022 by Colorado legislators before the overturn of Roe v. Wade, codifies a person's right to abortion into law. However, Pueblo's proposed abortion ordinance cites a federal law that the writers of the ordinance said would trump the state law in place.
Mark Lee Dickson, founder of Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn and the director of Right to Life of East Texas, helped write the ordinance "requiring abortion providers in Pueblo to comply with federal law." That law refers to the Comstock Act of 1873, which made it illegal to ship or receive abortion-related supplies. The Comstock Act previously banned contraception, but that part of the law was repealed with the Supreme Court decision of Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965.
"No decision of the Colorado court and the Colorado legislature can change the fact that in the 1870s, Congress passed these laws that are on the books. So until Congress repeals those laws, these are the laws we're under," Dickson said.
He has helped pass over 60 similar anti-abortion ordinances across the country, the majority of them in Texas. Dickson said a similar ordinance passed in Hobbs, New Mexico cites the Comstock Act. However, New Mexico does not have a statewide law protecting the right to abortion like Colorado.
Rep. Daneya Esgar, a co-sponsor of the Reproductive Health Equity Act, said in a statement to KOAA that councilmembers shouldn't have the ability to restrict access to abortion.
"Municipalities should never have the ability to violate that fundamental right, which would result in a patchwork of protection around the state, and skirt the intent of the Reproductive Health Equity Act... I am disappointed that a few members of Pueblo’s City Council are pursuing a path pushed by a vocal minority rather than honoring the will of a majority of those they represent," she said.
Jaki Lawrence, a spokesperson for Cobalt Abortion Fund, an abortion advocacy group, said the ordinance is intentionally confusing and in direct violation of the state law.
"The Reproductive Health Equity Act established that the right to choose abortion is a matter of statewide concern, and as such, only the Colorado General Assembly or a statewide ballot initiative can take that right away. The Pueblo City Council members do not have the jurisdiction to restrict abortion for the people of Colorado," said Lawrence.
Pueblo's ordinance is written for private citizens to enforce. Dickson said the city would not play a role in upholding the ordinance. However, he continues to back his claim that the Comstock Law would successfully stand against state statutes.
"This is something that this was written to survive a challenge. If the state of Colorado does want to challenge that, then there's a place that we can take this, and that's the Supreme Court of the United States," Dickson said.
The second reading and final vote of the ordinance will be during the council's regular meeting on Monday, Dec.12. If the vote is 4-3 in favor, Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar has the option to veto it.
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