During a 10 a.m. press conference at NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado headquarters on July 20, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, is scheduled to formally endorse Representative Jared Polis for governor in part because of his longtime advocacy for abortion rights.
In advance of this event, Hogue spoke to Westword about Polis and his Republican opponent, Walker Stapleton, who's publicly pledged to protect the rights of the "born and unborn" but typically tries to skirt the subject. She also discussed efforts to prevent Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's choice for the latest U.S. Supreme Court justice, from winning senatorial approval, and how the pro-choice fight could move to the states if a reconfigured SCOTUS throws out Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a woman's constitutional right to abortion.
According to Hogue, she made the trip to Colorado to back Polis's candidacy because "this year, everything's in play. My focus is quite evenly divided between stopping Brett Kavanaugh from getting a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land and making sure we have the right people in states to protect women and families."
In her view, "Jared's record on this issue is super-clear, and Walker Stapleton's is about as frightening as Brett Kavanaugh's. That's why this election is critically important for the people of Colorado and also as a symbol of the direction of the nation. Colorado has a history of being the first state to legalize abortion in 1967 under a Republican governor, John Love, and we need to make sure the state stays on that trajectory."
Could abortion actually be outlawed in Colorado if Stapleton is elected? "Of course it could," Hogue replies. "We've seen a GOP that's grown increasingly hostile to these fundamental freedoms over the years. I can't imagine John Love would be very happy with his party right now. But do I think it would be an uphill battle for Stapleton to do that? I do. This is a state that has absolutely clung to the values of personal freedom and non-governmental intervention in our most basic decisions. So he would be between a rock and a hard place with a minority base that wants him to follow suit with the way the rest of the country has gone and a majority of Coloradans who very much believe in the principles we fight for."
However, Hogue adds, "I don't trust him, and I think it's too much of a risk, particularly when you have a contrast with someone like Jared Polis, who's thrown down on this issue and other issues of personal liberty. He's got a proven track record."
Women in other parts of the U.S. would be at much greater risk of losing their rights, Hogue believes.
"Right now, there are only eight states in the country where women would be 100 percent safe for the time being, because they have protections in the eventuality that Roe is overturned," she allows. "Then there are about a dozen states where, as we keep saying, ending Roe would imminently if not immediately criminalize abortion and make women and doctors criminals. And there are a lot more states that are set up to move in that direction, because we have seen a hostile takeover of state legislatures by the extreme anti-choice base."
Hogue acknowledges that "the cornerstone of my trip to Colorado is to endorse Jared Polis. But I'm also working hard for people like Faith Winter to flip the state Senate. If that happens, Governor Polis would have everything he needs to demonstrate to the country what needs to be done and what can be done."
In the meantime, the Kavanaugh nomination is front and center for the pro-choice movement, and Hogue insists that his confirmation isn't a lock. She points to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing that 73 percent of independents "want Roe upheld — and this guy seems like a surefire bet to end Roe. He also appears to be hostile to health care, another widely popular policy, and his views don't seem to fit with the idea that we need an independent judiciary to provide checks and balances on presidential administrations. In this administration, even many of the people who support the president want checks and balances, but this guy has said he thinks the president is above the law and he doesn't believe in the independent counsel."
For Kavanaugh to win approval, Hogue points out, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "has to hold every single vote. And bringing it back home, [Colorado Senator] Cory Gardner represents one of the most pro-choice states in the nation. He'd better think really, really hard if he's going to cast a vote to put a guy on the Supreme Court who's going to end Roe when he's up for election in 2020, when this court will have started to hand out decisions."
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In her view, "Justice [Anthony] Kennedy's retirement and Brett Kavanaugh's nomination are supercharging campaigns for state legislatures and governors across the country, where people are acutely aware that their families and personal freedoms are hanging in the balance. ... The anxiety is real and palpable."
Could the abortion issue be the difference between victory and defeat for Polis?
"Look, I think this is a fundamental issue and something Coloradans have led on, and they want the state to continue to be a safe place for women and families," Hogue responds. "Jared has always stood up for this issue, and Stapleton has tried to avoid it. But against the backdrop of the Kavanaugh nomination, this is going to become a real inflection point in the course of the race; it has to be. We're not manufacturing this. As I travel all over the country, people are making this connection. They're like, 'Whoa, reality just changed. The Supreme Court is going this way. I may need to think very carefully about this.'
"Colorado is a state with deep pride in valuing personal liberty," she notes, "and to the extent that it becomes an issue and Stapleton is forced to answer, I think it's going to move some of these people who are very nervous to not only vote for Jared, but also to dramatically increase their engagement to get others to vote for Jared, too."