Activists on both sides of the abortion debate are gearing up for a prolonged fight they expect to wage if the U.S. Supreme Court, indeed, strikes down Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion in the United States.

A leaked draft opinion, first reported by Politico, indicated a majority of justices on the nation’s highest court are poised to overturn the 1973 law, a decision that would shift the battle over the contours of abortion access away from the federal government and toward the states. 

It’s not a done deal – justices could change their minds and a first draft often evolves before the opinion's final publication – but anti-abortion supporters have been hoping and working for precisely that decision for nearly 50 years, said Julie Bailey, vice president of Pikes Peak Citizens for Life and director of the Respect Life Apostolate for the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs.

And even then, the outcome ultimately hinges on Americans' view of abortion, Bailey said.  

“We know the battle does not end in states like Colorado, California, New York and New Jersey, and we’ll still be fighting for life,” she said. “We’ve always believed our battle is not one that is going to necessarily be solved in the courts, the legislatures or even the White House, but in the hearts and minds of Americans, whom we hope to convince of the dignity of every human life, born and unborn.”

The state’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, sees the expected decision, assuming the draft truly reflects the court's final opinion, as devastating.

“If this becomes the final ruling, it is just going to have an absolutely horrific impact on our patients, on our communities and our country,” said Kristina Tocce, vice president and medical director. “I don’t even know how to express with enough weight that this will harm patients. Some will be unable to obtain abortion care and that is going to lead to poor health outcomes.” 

The Supreme Court's decision, which is expected this summer, will not immediately change the status quo in Colorado – or in many other states, particularly those that have adopted permissive statutes.  

Josh Dunn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, said abortions would still be available in most states, particularly early in pregnancy, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

But Dunn said it's possible the leak, which he calls “a huge violation of trust of the Supreme Court,” will prompt the justices to rule on the issue earlier than expected.

“If they find someone has done this to manipulate them, they could say we’ll just announce the decision now,” he said.

The nine justices are originally expected to rule on a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of gestation before the current court session ends in late June or early July.

In any case, both camps have been preparing for the eventual court decision since last year, and many expect the battle lines to only get sharper. 

"We have ceded the Colorado abortion conversation to proabortion proponents for too long," Dr. Tom Perille, president of Democrats for Life of Colorado, said. "That is about to change."  

Indeed, even as progressives denounced the draft opinion, they, too, hinted of some sense of acceptance that, absent federal protection for abortion, the debate is moving to the states.

In Colorado, progressives hold the upper hand.  

Colorado, one of seven states with no legal restrictions on late-term abortions, further expanded abortion rights throughout pregnancy this legislative session via the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law last month.

Polis on Tuesday took at aim at Republicans, even as he, too, hinted of the contours of the upcoming fight.  

“Republicans have been obsessed with taking away freedoms. First, Texas passes a law encouraging dangerous vigilante attacks on women. Then Florida used big government to infringe upon the freedom of speech banning the word gay and now the Trump appointed Supreme Court has threatened the reproductive freedoms of all Americans," Polis said via a spokesperson.

The governor had reiterated his backing for abortion rights on Monday, when news of the leaked draft broke: “While this is extremely disappointing news, representing a radical shift in American life away from individual freedom, in Colorado we will continue to fight for and respect the right to make decisions about your own body and medical health."

Recent attempts to persuade Colorado voters to approve abortion restrictions, such as banning late-term abortions, have failed, but Bailey, the anti-abortion activist, is not giving up.

“There’s always hope for Colorado, and there will always be challenges in Colorado to current law,” she said.

Bailey indicated the fight in Colorado will likely focus on banning late-term abortion. 

“So, there are a significant number of Coloradans who do support limitation, particularly on late-term abortion,” she said.

A ballot proposition in 2020 to ban abortions after a fetus reached 22 weeks of gestation in Colorado failed by a 41% to 59% margin.

Anti-abortion advocates also view the overturning of Roe, if it happens, as another window for another kind of a fight — change Coloradans' hearts and minds.

Data from the Pew Research Center show that public support for legal abortion has remained relatively stable over the past five years: 59% support abortion in all or most cases and 39% believe it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Perille said he believes there will be a concerted effort to educate Coloradans about “the reality of abortion and compassionate alternatives” before another ballot measure is pursued. 

A reversal of Roe v. Wade would be “just the beginning of long effort to make abortion unthinkable,” he said, adding that, over the coming months, anti-abortion activists statewide will underscore how women and families facing an unplanned pregnancy can find assistance through a variety of programs accessible via web and apps.

“They will highlight the literally hundreds of resources in Colorado that will make it easier to choose life — since most abortions are performed for social and economic reasons,” the doctor said.

Research from Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs-based Christian organization that produces radio broadcasts, videos, books and other communication for adults and children, shows women have abortions because they don’t feel supported, they’re scared or they don’t think they’re qualified to have a baby, according to spokesman Paul Batura.

“We’re trying to allay those fears,” he said, adding his organization also promotes adoption as a viable option for pregnant women.

Organizing from both camps will likely ramp up in the coming months.

Democratic legislators Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, Rep. Meg Froelich and Sen. Julie Gonzales, who authored legislation to guarantee the right to an abortion in Colorado, said the state will "not go back to a time when patients were forced to seek out unsafe abortions, putting their health and lives at risk."

"We will continue fighting to keep abortion legal for all Coloradans and the countless individuals who will be forced to travel to our state for care, or ​carry unsafe pregnancies to term," they said in a joint statement.

Lauren ‘Lo’ Castillo, director of mission advancement for Students for Life of America and Students for Life Action, both based in Fredericksburg, Va., said a priority now is for groups to band together to “build that infrastructure needed for a post-Roe America, where no woman stands alone.” 

“The pro-life movement has an unprecedented momentum and we are pursuing various strategies,” she said. “The movement, as a whole, has been willing to challenge the notion of ‘what is possible’ in our mission to end abortion.”

Reporter Seth Klamann also contributed to this article.

Watch: Abortion rights supporters gather at Colorado State Capitol

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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