In Colorado, Playing “Who Hates Abortion More?”

Wendy Norris

Hard-line anti-abortion forces in Colorado say they are backing off their fiery criticism of conservative U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer for not supporting a controversial state ballot measure. Or are they gearing up for Round Two?

Steve Curtis came out firing on all cylinders. And, in a bit of internecine political warfare rarely seen in these parts, the former Colorado Republican Party chief was gunning for the state's presumptive GOP nominee for U.S. Senate.

Curtis, the vice president of American Right to Life Action, took ex-Rep. Schaffer, a fellow staunch anti-abortion advocate, to the proverbial woodshed following a series of news stories chronicling the congressman's support of guest worker policies on the Mariana Islands as a possible model for the continental United States' migrant labor woes.

The Marianas are long known for squalid sweatshop practices — including accusations that the primarily Chinese and southeast Asian female workers were forced to undergo abortions and young girls were pushed into prostitution.

Schaffer's guest worker proposal and a later press statement that he never personally witnessed any forced abortions while on a $13,000 "fact-finding" trip to the Marianas in 1999 (paid by associates of now-jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff) were met with howls of derision by the press, bloggers and the public.

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Curtis, an outspoken proponent of a controversial proposed state ballot measure to prohibit abortion by conferring constitutional rights on fertilized eggs, seized the media controversy and ran with it.

He excoriated Schaffer in the Colorado press this week as being soft on abortion. Later, he accused Schaffer of lying about not having an opinion on the ballot measure that has caused deep fissures in the local anti-abortion movement.

While Schaffer has since retreated, his camp, notably campaign manager Dick Wadhams, hit back, calling Curtis "attention-starved" and referencing National Right to Life unceremoniously dumping Curtis' Colorado affiliate after its members attacked Focus on the Family founder James Dobson for not being anti-abortion enough in newspaper ads last year.

Then, two days ago, Curtis suddenly backed off. His public statements softened. He claimed the whole thing "got off issue" and was simply "political battles in the heat of the moment."

Except the battle is now being waged elsewhere — far from public view where Curtis' involvement in the hard-line anti-abortion movement runs deep.

On April 26, another of Curtis' tax-exempt charities, LifeCommercials.com, which bills itself as "America's premier pro-life ministry," is hosting a fundraiser [PDF] at a hotel ballroom in Westminster, Colo., a conservative suburb northwest of Denver. The group produces provocative television ads on emergency contraception, abortion and eugenics.

Event organizers released a late-breaking update this morning gleefully announcing a "surprise guest" — Shiu Yon Zhou, who claims she was forced to undergo an abortion in China.

The event will also feature a presentation by the Rev. Bob Enyart, who refers to himself as "America's most popular self-proclaimed right-wing, religious fanatic, homophobic, anti-choice talk show host." Enyart said on his Thursday radio program, "If China was killing Jews, would [Bob Schaffer] still vote for most-favored nation trading status because of the overarching economic and political considerations?"

A press release issued on Thursday by American Right to Life Action — after Curtis claimed to the press that the disagreement was over — cites Zhou and Curtis himself ramping up the anti-Schaffer rhetoric even higher:

"The pro-life movement will no longer give a pass to candidates like Bob Schaffer who look the other way when Chinese women are forced to abort their children," said Steve Curtis, former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and spokesperson for American Right To Life Action. "At best Schaffer was negligent investigating coerced abortion in the Mariana Islands. Worse, he has voted (May 2000) for permanent normal trade relations with China, rewarding the regime that forces women to abort their children."

The vice president of Colorado's largest pro-life organization agrees. "At Colorado Right To Life, one of our dearest members, a young woman named Shiu Yon Zhou, is the victim of Chinese forced abortion policy," said Leslie Hanks. "While Bob Schaffer supported (1990s) most-favored nation trading status to Communist China, that government was literally forcing women like Shiu Yon down on operating tables and killing their unborn children."

"As a Chinese woman, I know the horror and shame of forced abortion," said Shiu Yon Zhou. "And I beg Mr. Schaffer to not look the other way, and to apologize for being part of the problem. He calls himself pro-life, but how can he be when he is not outraged by Chinese forced abortion? That is worse than pro-choice."

Also sharing the event dais will be Colorado for Equal Rights' Kristi Burton, the putative leader of the group sponsoring the "egg as a person" ballot measure — the very issue that ignited Curtis-Schaffer kerfuffle.

News Politics

U.S. Senate Candidate’s Abortion Stance Sets Him Apart From Fellow GOP Opponents in Colorado

Jason Salzman

Former Colorado State University athletics director Jack Graham is backing a “woman’s right to choose” as he competes against four self-described “pro-life” Republicans in a primary to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in November’s election.

In Colorado, where Republicans like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in 2014 and GOP senatorial candidate Ken Buck in 2010 are known for taking hard-line anti-abortion stances during the Republican primary and then moderating their positions for the consumption of general-election voters, a GOP senatorial candidate this year is turning heads. The candidate, former Colorado State University athletics director Jack Graham, is backing a “woman’s right to choose” as he competes against four self-described “pro-life” Republicans in a primary to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in November’s election.

Graham repeatedly states in speeches, as he does on his website, that the “government’s role in our lives should be kept to a minimum.” In keeping with this, he adds, “I support and I believe in a woman’s right to choose; and that our government does not belong in this decision.”

“I feel deeply about the right to choose, just as I do about the sanctity of life,” Graham told the Pueblo Chieftain in April.

Graham supports Roe v. Wade and praises Planned Parenthood’s ability to respond in “real time” when sexual health crises arise, like the AIDS epidemic, which he witnessed in the 1980s.

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As for details on the meaning of his abortion stance, Graham’s website states that “the government should not participate in any way in the funding of abortion procedures or abortion counseling,” and it also states that continued funding for Planned Parenthood “should be predicated upon their complete discontinuation of abortion activities.” He’s also opposed to “late-term” and “partial-birth” abortions.

Still, Graham’s position, particularly his use of pro-choice language, like “a women’s right to choose,” to describe his stance, sets him apart from his four GOP primary opponents, even making headlines like this one in the Pueblo Chieftain: “GOP Senate hopeful is pro-choice.”

The other four GOP primary candidates are anti-choice in varying degrees. Darryl Glenn, an El Paso County Commissioner who was voted onto the primary ballot by Republicans at their state convention, supports so-called personhood, according to Colorado Right to Life, meaning he believes life begins at conception, and fertilized human eggs (zygotes) should be given legal rights.

“I am an unapologetic pro-life American,” Glenn said during a recent televised debate. “I don’t agree with the decision of Roe v. Wade.”

Businessmen Robert Blaha and Ryan Frazier and former state Rep. Jon Kyser (R-Jefferson County) all say they are “pro-life.”

The question is, will Graham’s abortion stance affect his chances of victory in Tuesday’s GOP primary?

“From a purely political strategy standpoint, I’m inclined to think it will help him,” said John Sraayer, professor of political science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, in an interview with Rewire. “He doesn’t need all the Republican voters in the primary, he just needs to get more than the other candidates.”

Straayer said Graham’s position will hurt him with more Republican primary voters than not, but in a low-turnout primary election, with votes divided among five candidates, Graham could benefit from “standing out” on reproductive rights.

“The people on the pro-life side have four choices,” Straayer told Rewire. “They can only pick one, so the pro-life vote will be fragmented.”

Straayer pointed out that Graham’s campaign benefits from being run by political consultant Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado state party chairman, who managed South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s upset victory of Democrat Tom Daschle in 2005.

Graham, who became a Republican about a year ago, did not return a call from Rewire seeking comment.

No public polling on Graham’s primary race is available, but the latest campaign finance report shows that Graham is in the lead. He has given his campaign $1.5 million and has more cash on hand than any of his opponents, with over $800,000 in the bank, as the Colorado Statesman reported. Graham’s closest GOP opponent, Blaha, has over $270,000 in cash, after loaning his campaign $1 million earlier this year.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet has $5.7 million in the bank, seven times as much as Graham.

In 2014, Sen. Gardner defeated pro-choice Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, in part, by claiming legislation he co-sponsored to outlaw abortion was merely symbolic, when in fact, it was not.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Group: End Abortion Access in Colorado Springs After Deadly Clinic Shooting

Jason Salzman

Personhood USA, which has backed three failed "personhood" ballot initiatives in Colorado, is organizing a municipal initiative for Colorado Springs.

Personhood USA announced Wednesday in an email to supporters that it’s launching a campaign to place a “personhood” initiative on the municipal ballot in Colorado Springs. The measure would ban legal abortion in the city.

The initiative has been in the works for more than a year, and was not crafted in response to Planned Parenthood’s announcement this week that it will soon reopen its Colorado Springs clinic, where three people were killed on November 27, Personhood USA spokeswoman Jennifer Mason told Rewire in a phone interview.

“We had actually planned to do it before the tragic shooting there,” said Mason, explaining that her organization has a base of volunteers and supportive churches in Colorado Springs. “When Planned Parenthood announced that they were reopening, that confirmed for us that this was the right place to start …. The people who reached out to us in Colorado Springs don’t want any violence, including abortion, there.”

Mason said she’s working with attorneys to finalize the language of the measure, which will be similar to one of the statewide amendments soundly rejected by voters in 2014. She said her group is just beginning the legal process of putting a measure on the ballot, and she hopes to file the paperwork within the next two months.

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“Thinking of the shooting brings tears to my eyes,” Mason wrote in a fundraising appeal for the Colorado Springs initiative. “Thinking of the fact that Planned Parenthood will re-open its doors and kill innocent babies compounds that grief and adds a large dose of nausea. I can’t bear the thought that a place that has killed countless of innocent children will re-open to kill countless more.”

“[W]ith your help, we can get the legal paperwork filed and begin this all-out effort to end abortion in Colorado Springs today,” wrote Mason.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains declined comment, through a spokeswoman.

A coalition of organizations raised more than $2.6 million to defeat a statewide “personhood” amendment in 2014, using a combination of paid advertising, media outreach, and organizing.

Mason told Rewire her work on the municipal initiative will benefit from three previous statewide “personhood” amendments in Colorado, even though they were overwhelmingly defeated.

“We’ve been laying the groundwork with the statewide initiatives, building our database so we can home in on these smaller areas and hopefully have more success there,” Mason said.

After the last “personhood” amendment failed in 2014, some “personhood” backers pledged to focus on municipal ballot initiatives, rather than statewide initiatives, which have failed not just in Colorado, but states such as Alabama.

An anti-choice municipal initiative that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks was defeated in Albuquerque in 2013.