Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila on Saturday urged those attending the Celebrate Life rally in downtown Denver to not be discouraged by a proposed ballot measure to eliminate some, but not all, abortions.
"Yes, we firmly believe that all abortion laws should be abolished,” he told the crowd. "But we also desire to protect even in increments the gift of human life. We are not voting for abortion, nor are we voting to say that we agree to abortion up to 22 weeks. What we are saying is that we respect life, and we respect it for all the pregnancy."
Initiative 120, also known as “Due Date Too Late,” would require a physician to determine the “gestational age” of a fetus prior to performing an abortion. Only if the life of a woman is in danger would the abortion be permitted after 22 weeks. The measure falls short of the repeated attempts to give “personhood” status to fetuses in the past several years. Nearly 65% of voters rejected Amendment 67 in 2014.
However, Aquila dismissed the notion that Initiative 120 was a half-measure.
"Twenty-two weeks is a significant milestone, since at this age, it is possible for a baby to survive outside the womb,” he said. Aquila cited a figure of 289 “missing” children due to such abortions in 2018. The Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life research group, found that 323 Colorado abortions in 2018 occurred 21 weeks or later in a pregnancy. Nearly 90% of the patients were residents of the state.
Aquila also reminded rally goers to stay strong in the face of “persecution” for their anti-abortion beliefs.
“No matter what culture of death we live in, no matter what words of hate are spoken to us, no matter what persecution we experience...have the courage to proclaim the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death,” he said to applause.
Catholic Charities was the organizer of the event. A spokesperson for the Denver Archdiocese estimated that 8,000 people attended the rally at the Capitol and subsequent march in the vicinity of Civic Center Park. The Colorado State Patrol said that it did not perform an independent estimate of attendance. Signature gatherers, who were circulating petitions at the event, need 124,632 signatures to place Initiative 120 on the ballot.
The keynote speaker was Ramona Treviño, the former manager of a Planned Parenthood referral center in Sherman, Tex., who has since become an anti-abortion activitst.
“Oftentimes people may laugh or joke and think that we’re just a bunch of crazies out here. And I know because I used to be on the other side and thought that you were a bunch of crazies,” she said.
Speaking alternately in English and Spanish, she said that while her time at Planned Parenthood was distant, “what never will be a distant memory are the thousands of pre-born babies who are legally slaughtered everyday in the U.S., all in the name of choice.”
Attendee Maria Olivas, who works for Catholic Charities, said that her office has had “a lot of aggressive calls” opposed to the initiative, but that she is participating in the effort “for the greater glory of god.”
She agreed with Aquila’s characterization of those holding pro-life views in Colorado as being persecuted.
“Just like Jesus was persecuted, we are to be persecuted as well,” she said.
Lauran Tilden of Weld County said she has had friends and colleagues turn against her for her views, and does feel targeted if she is the only pro-life person in the room.
“I can’t stay quiet about it. If somebody’s going to say things that I think are inherently robbing the dignity of a person, I’m not going to stand for that,” she said. “It’s the same thing if somebody was shouting racist things to someone. I can’t say, ‘yeah, that’s your choice.’”
Tilden, who was there with her four children, thought it would be nice if Initiative 120 passed, but she maintained that “I don’t think it’s going to change people’s minds as much as dialogue and person-to-person contact.” She added that laws would not necessarily change behavior around abortion, but rather there would need to be a culture change where “women need to feel that there are other options and men need to feel that they’re strong enough to support their wives or girlfriends.”
Officially, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment credits long-acting reversible contraception, enabled by a $27 million donation, with causing a 50% drop in teen abortion rates between 2007 and 2014.
The rally comes less than two weeks before the March for Life, an annual event in Washington, D.C. marking the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion. This year, students at Colorado Christian University will co-lead the march. The goal of the march is to urge an overturn of the Roe decision.