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Colorado Senate candidates Bennet, O’Dea spar over abortion rights, SCOTUS decision

August 23, 2022, 9:26 am
Sen. Michael Bennet, left, and Joe O’Dea, right. (Bennet: Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline. O’Dea: Courtesy of Sage Naumann/O’Dea campaign)

As the summer drags on, temperatures are rising in Colorado’s closely-watched U.S. Senate race, with incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Joe O’Dea clashing over the issue of abortion rights.

Bennet’s campaign began airing the race’s first attack ad last week, knocking O’Dea for his support for the GOP-appointed Supreme Court majority that struck down Roe v. Wade and his opposition to the abortion-rights law passed by Colorado Democrats this year.

O’Dea, in turn, accused Bennet of a “smear” and released a video labeling Bennet “a sleazy politician who will say anything to keep his job.”

“My dad will defend a woman’s right to choose,” O’Dea’s daughter Tayler said in the video.

O’Dea has endorsed a limited right to abortion early in pregnancy, subject to a range of restrictions. It’s a position that cost him support among conservatives in his primary contest against state Rep. Ron Hanks, but one which the candidate and his supporters have billed as necessary to “unite a huge coalition” and unseat Bennet in a state that has trended Democratic in recent elections.

Bennet’s bid for a third full Senate term has been endorsed by abortion-rights groups like Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which said the Democrat “remains steady in fighting back to protect abortion access.” In May, Bennet joined 48 other Senate Democrats in voting for the Women’s Health Protection Act, an expansive abortion-rights bill that would have prohibited many state-level restrictions on reproductive care. It was defeated in a 49-51 vote.

A more limited bill to codify the Roe decision into federal law has support from just two sitting GOP senators, leaving it well short of the filibuster-proof 60 votes required for passage — and if Republicans win control of the House as expected in November, advocates say the prospects for a decisive vote on such a bill would become virtually nonexistent.

“Roe is dead, and (O’Dea) would have voted for the justices who killed it,” said Laura Chapin, a communications consultant for Colorado abortion-rights group Cobalt. Referring to the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe, she added, “June 24 changed everything.”

O’Dea’s campaign did not answer directly when asked how the candidate would approach abortion rights in the context of judicial confirmations, instead referring a reporter to a previous press release.

“Take it from the people who know best: abortion rights advocacy groups like Cobalt and Planned Parenthood Action Fund who endorsed Michael’s campaign, and Colorado women who spoke up because their reproductive rights are at risk,” Bennet campaign manager Justin Lamorte said in a statement. “They know the choice for U.S. Senate is not even close, Michael fights to protect reproductive rights, O’Dea sides with far-right politicians who’d take those rights away.”

I’m not going to run that bill

O’Dea told The Colorado Sun on Thursday that he had voted for Proposition 115, a 2020 Colorado ballot measure that would have banned nearly all abortions after the fetus has reached 22 weeks gestational age.

The ballot measure did not include exceptions for rape, incest, detections of fetal abnormalities or nonlethal threats to the health of the mother. It failed by a 59% to 41% margin.

“The bottom line is that Joe O’Dea confirmed he voted for a no-exceptions abortion ban,” Chapin said. “Colorado voters understand that substituting political judgment for medical judgment is a bad idea.”

Abortions later than 22 weeks of gestation account for less than 1% of all procedures nationally, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Abortion-rights advocates say they’re the result of highly personal and complex decisions that are often prompted by the diagnosis of a terminal genetic or developmental condition in the fetus.

Later on Friday, O’Dea said in an interview with radio station KOA that he believes “20 weeks is right where we need to be.”

“Seven, eight, nine (months), that’s way too late,” he said. “Six is marginal.”

O’Dea did not specify which measure of the length of a pregnancy he believes should be used for such a ban. Some states restrict abortion based on gestational age, the estimate typically used by physicians, while others use a measure known as “probable post-fertilization age,” which is typically two weeks shorter. Both measures are imprecise and rely on doctors’ estimates of the timing of a pregnant person’s menstrual cycle.

O’Dea also reiterated his support for prohibitions on public funding for abortion care, exemptions for religiously affiliated medical providers and parental notification requirements. And while he said he would vote for a limited abortion-rights bill that contained those provisions, he made clear that such legislation wouldn’t be a priority for him in the Senate.

“I’m not running on social issues,” O’Dea said. “I’m not going to run that bill.”

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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