Remembering Roe in Denver: Real People, Real Stories

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Remembering Roe in Denver: Real People, Real Stories

Wendy Norris

Colorado women at a "Remember Roe" event tell of the driving forces behind their advocacy for choice in a state in which "personhood" threatens Roe, and conservative lawmakers try to kill a bill banning gender rating in insurance policies.

Desperate and alone, Kathy* confided to a fellow student that she was pregnant and needed to terminate her pregnancy. But getting an abortion was still illegal in the United States then and her options for professional medical care were extremely limited.

Several young women in her dormitory at the University of Colorado-Boulder took up a collection to get Kathy to an abortion clinic in Mexico. She returned to Colorado soon after and while recovering in a local hotel room, Kathy began to hemorrhage severely.

"She had been butchered," said Cindi Coleman, who served as a freshman residence hall leader and helped gather funds for the procedure.

The girls panicked. As Kathy became increasingly ill, they sought advice from a trusted older student in the dorm. She convinced them to bring Kathy to a nearby hospital where she was treated for injuries sustained during the botched abortion.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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The secrecy and fear of those events 40 years ago still haunt Coleman who told me her friend’s harrowing story in hushed tones at a commemoration event for the 37th anniversary of Roe v Wade in Denver Thursday hosted by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Nearly losing her friend to a botched abortion motivated Coleman to be a driving force in the pro-choice movement. And her decades of activism has helped protect a woman’s right to choose on both the local and national stage — through the National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Denver-based coalition, Protect Families Protect Choice, that soundly defeated the 2008 anti-abortion Colorado constitutional amendment to enact "personhood" rights for fertilized eggs.

The "personhood" movement is the latest threat to Roe. It attempts to broadly ban abortion, outlaw contraception that interferes with implantation and restrict in-vitro fertilization under a conservative legal strategy to attack the Supreme Court’s decision on 14th amendment equal protection and due process grounds.

Against the latest backdrop of fierce ideological and hypothetical arguments surrounding Roe, Kathy’s story serves as a stark reminder of the very personal consequences of the need for safe, legal comprehensive reproductive health care access.

Being a mom is joyful but very difficult. Roe matters to me because it allows for women to become the best mothers than possibly be. Save Roe. — a handwritten note left on the PPRM Roe v Wade remembrance wall.

For Melina Hernandez, a law student at the University of Denver and patient of Planned Parenthood, her activism was inspired by the knowledge that others before her, like Cindi, fought for her right to reproductive freedom.

The turning point for Hernandez was a discussion with a mentor who expressed concerns about the waning priority of younger generations engaged in pro-choice activism.

"I stumbled into it when I began to realize there were political reasons I had health care access," said Hernandez recounting her mentor’s advice to remember how hard her foremothers worked to ensure future women could obtain contraception, cancer screenings, sex education and confidential health care services.

[Roe] means self-determination, ease of mind control over one’s own destiny. —a message to supporters on the PPRM Roe v Wade remembrance wall.

John Bosley attended the event to combat the stereotype that defending Roe is a woman’s issue. The Westminster, Colo., resident married his high school sweetheart 10 years ago and it was her reproductive health advocacy that ignited his own need to get involved.

"Men have just as much responsibility to support this," said Bosley who uses Facebook to chat about the issue with conservative friends. And his approach seems to resonate with other men by focusing the discussion on bedrock American principles of freedom and self-determination by asking: "Do you stand for people having choice without interference from the government or the church?"

For the 300 people who were expected to attend the Denver Roe event the fight for reproductive health continues under the mantle of Bosley’s question.

Among the more contentious issues in Colorado is a second attempt by religious conservatives to place a state "personhood" initiative on the 2010 ballot. Meanwhile, conservative state lawmakers are working to thwart a bill to ban gender-rating of health insurance policies— a discriminatory practice that allows insurers to charge women up to 59 percent more than men. When freedom of choice becomes a numbers game with more expensive costs and less comprehensive care, everybody loses. 

I am a moral decision-maker, perfectly competent to make my own decisions. Anything less is an insult. — from the PPRM Roe v Wade remembrance wall.

*Kathy is a pseudonym used to protect her privacy.