Commentary Abortion

Anti-Choice Agenda Thrives in Hallway of Conservative Conference in Denver

Jason Salzman

A large conservative conference in Denver showed how conservatives are at once unable to drop their extreme abortion views and, at the same time, at a loss regarding what to say about it.

The Western Conservative Summit, held July 26-28 in downtown Denver, featured a five-star lineup of top Republicans—including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—as well as workshops on how conservatives can be more appealing to regular people.

But there wasn’t any discussion on the official conference program of abortion, an issue that’s been used by Democrats to hammer Republicans in recent elections, particularly in swing states like Colorado.

Immigration was on the program, yes. Energy, yes. But abortion? No.

Still, there was evident support for uncompromising anti-choice positions at the conference.

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“Folks, you can sign a pro-life petition here!” Susan Sutherland, petition coordinator for a Personhood USA-backed campaign to put a fetal-homicide bill on the 2014 Colorado election ballot, told summit attendees as they swarmed through the exhibit room Saturday morning.

“Quick signature to recognize an unborn baby as a person under Colorado law,” she said.

“Most of the people here are very agreeable,” Sutherland told me, adding the conference “leadership” came down to their table and signed the petition. “It beats being on the streets, and we do a lot of events.”

Halfway through the conference, Sutherland and her fellow activists got hundreds of signatures on their petition and handed out dozens of petitions for their “personhood” initiative, which is seen by pro-choice advocates as an effort to codify human life as beginning at conception, thus banning all abortion, even in the cases of rape and incest.

So the excitement in the halls of the Western Conservative Summit over the “personhood” measure did not match the silence on the conference agenda.

What gives?

Conservatives just don’t know what to say about choice issues anymore. They know they need women voters in a place like Colorado to win elections, and they understand that swing-voting soccer moms don’t take kindly to candidates who want to limit a woman’s right to choose.

These conservatives are at once unable to drop their extreme abortion views and, at the same time, at a loss regarding what to say about it, how to re-brand it.

So they say nothing. It’s eliminated from the conference agenda. But that doesn’t stop the anti-choice activists from persevering in the hallway.

Sutherland told me her signature-gathering campaign is “very much on schedule,” compared to past efforts, to turn in the required signatures to the Colorado secretary of state’s office by the end of September. They’re asking activists to return petition forms by September 7.

“It is so grassroots,” Sutherland said. “We have thousands of petitions out throughout the state. The petitions flood in during the last two weeks. We’ll be doing a lot of scrambling.”

They may be scrambling even more if the measure makes the ballot. Colorado voters overwhelmingly defeated “personhood” initiatives in 2008 and 2010.

And conservative candidates, who respond to anti-choice pressure and support the measure, will be scrambling as well to explain themselves to women voters.

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