Colorado city council tables anti-abortion ordinance
Mark Lee Dickson behind proposal similar to those in Clovis, Portales.
Last updated 12/16/2022 at 3:23pm
PUEBLO, Colo. -- The Pueblo City Council on Monday night narrowly voted to indefinitely table a controversial proposed ordinance that could have banned abortion within city limits.
Council President Heather Graham made the motion to table, saying because states have the authority to regulate abortion it was a state matter and not a municipal one.
"I would suggest if you want to ban abortion, take it up with the state legislators. Or, quite frankly, you move out of Colorado because the City Council is not the arena to be bringing this forward," Graham said.
Graham and Council members Dennis Flores, Sarah Martinez and Vicente Martinez Ortega (no relation) voted to table the ordinance and remove it from Monday's regular meeting agenda. Councilmembers Regina Maestri, Larry Atencio and Lori Winner voted against tabling it.
Pueblo's Director of Public Affairs Haley Sue Robinson said a council member could bring forward the same draft ordinance or propose a new one in the future.
City Clerk Marisa Stoller said more than 100 people were expected to speak on both sides of the abortion debate Monday night.
Their voices went unheard, Texas pastor and anti-abortion advocate Mark Lee Dickson said after the meeting. Dickson helped draft the proposed Pueblo ordinance and has helped pass municipal abortion bans in more than 60 cities, paving the way for the 2021 Texas "heartbeat bill" that outlawed most abortions after six weeks. Similar ordinances have been proposed in Clovis and Portales.
The city "lined people up ... with the expectation to speak tonight, but they won't get that chance because this was all tabled," he said.
The ordinance, which seems to be the first proposed municipal anti-abortion regulation brought forth in Colorado, proposed to require abortion providers in Pueblo to comply with federal law, citing an 1873 Comstock law that prohibits publicizing, distributing or possessing information about or medication or other tools for "unlawful" contraception or abortions.
Parts of the law banning contraception have since been overturned, but other portions regarding abortion are still seemingly on record.
The drafted Pueblo ordinance made exceptions for fertilization treatments, saving a baby's life, removing a dead "unborn child," ectopic pregnancies and emergency contraception like Plan B medication.
It would have precluded mailing "any article or thing designed, adapted or intended for producing abortion; or any article, instrument, substance, drug, medicine or thing which is advertised or described in a manner calculated to lead another to use or apply it for producing abortion."
The ordinance would have outlawed using computers to order the equipment or "knowingly" receiving such tools in the mail.
It would have authorized the public, not the government, to enforce the law by suing abortion providers. Residents would have been able to sue abortion providers for at least $100,000 per violation.
OB-GYNs from the Parkview Health System last week told the Pueblo City Council if the drafted municipal law passed it would impede local doctors from providing adequate health care to their patients.
It would prevent them from using medications and other devices needed to treat medical situations such as ectopic pregnancy or miscarriages, they said, since those tools could also be used to perform elective abortions.
Jonathan Mitchell, an attorney who wrote the Texas "heartbeat" bill and who is a former Texas solicitor general, said during a work session ahead of the regular meeting Monday night the proposed ordinance wouldn't outlaw abortion. Instead, it "focuses on intent," he said.
The federal Comstock laws cited in the proposed regulation make it illegal to mail medications and devices intended for use in an abortion, he said.
"If there is no intent to perform an abortion with respect to that shipment, there is no violation (of federal law) and there would be no violation of an ordinance that were enacted," Mitchell said.
Colorado Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, who helped write Colorado's Reproductive Health Equity Act passed by the state Legislature this year to codify a person's "fundamental right" to choose to continue or end a pregnancy, said Monday the proposed ordinance "directly violates" state law.
The Reproductive Health Equity Act bans public state and local entities, such as city councils, from limiting a person's access to reproductive health care, including abortions, Esgar said.
The law "also establishes that the right to access abortion care is a matter of statewide concern," she said. "That means that only the Colorado General Assembly or a statewide ballot initiative can take that right away. This is not within the purview of City Council. ... If a clinic cannot receive the materials that they need to perform an abortion, that is directly a burden to an individual's fundamental right relating to reproductive health care."
Pueblo's legal staff recommended the council not approve the ordinance, background documents show. City Attorney Dan Kogovsek told the council on Monday he believed it violated state law.
While the Colorado Attorney General's Office did not comment specifically on the proposed regulation in Pueblo, spokesman Lawrence Pacheco told The Gazette previously that "Attorney General Phil Weiser is committed to defending the Reproductive Health Equity Act and challenging any local ordinance that violates the law."
Maestri has said she brought the document before the council on behalf of residents who are concerned about a planned abortion clinic in town.
There are no abortion clinics in Pueblo, and the nearest one is about 45 miles north in Colorado Springs.
Clinics for Abortion and Reproductive Excellence, which also has locations in Nebraska and Maryland, has purchased a building in Pueblo's historic Bessemer neighborhood. No opening date has been announced.