A challenge to Colorado’s abortion law could come from a Weld County commissioner’s ‘human life sanctuary’ proposal

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Lori Saine sits in the Colorado House of Representatives on April 19, 2019. Saine used to represent District 63 and currently serves as a Weld County commissioner.
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Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine on Wednesday attempted to introduce a local resolution that would establish the northern Colorado county as the state’s first “human life sanctuary,” an anti-abortion designation designed to limit local access to the procedure.

It was the second time Saine had tried to put an anti-abortion rights resolution on the Board of County Commissioners' agenda in recent months, with this most recent attempt following the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The resolution, which is still in draft form, aims to chip away at Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act, which enshrined the legal right to abortion and contraceptive medicines in state law.

If passed as-is, the resolution would direct county attorneys to “prepare materials necessary to file suit against the State of Colorado for infringement, overreach and misuse of statutes against the counties of Colorado in zoning and building code regulations,” according to a copy Saine shared with CPR. RHEA prohibits local governments from enforcing zoning and building codes that may interfere with the use of a facility to provide abortion services. 

After briefly considering adding the measure to Wednesday’s agenda, the board’s three other members in attendance decided to punt discussion to a future meeting. One board member, Steve Moreno, was absent. 

This is Saine's latest attempt to limit abortion access

Saine has long been a supporter of anti-abortion initiatives across the state. She’s also running as a Republican candidate in the state’s new 8th Congressional District, hoping to win over conservative voters in Adams and Weld counties. 

“We can start removing this stain (of abortion) from our nation and it can start here,” Saine said as she requested the measure be added to the board’s agenda. “We need to put a countywide setback on murdering children in place. Nothing is more important than protecting our children.” 

Outside of rebuking RHEA, the draft resolution proclaims that the county “recognizes life from conception to natural death, and hereby establishes Weld County to be an official sanctuary for human life, above and beyond any statute, rule or amendment adopted by the State of Colorado.”

The language echoes past local control measures passed in Weld related to oil and gas drilling and other politically divisive issues that aim to combat state law.

Other board members said they needed more time to review the sanctuary county resolution’s language.

“I would suggest that on something as important as this, that we do that when all five county commissioners are present,” said Mike Freeman, the county’s pro-tem commissioner. 

Last month, Saine tried and failed to pass a similar symbolic resolution. One commissioner, Perry Buck, voted in favor. The three other commissioners abstained, stating that the measure had no teeth. 

Saine said the new resolution carries more weight. She was motivated by the recent Supreme Court leak to keep amending the draft and find a way to limit abortion access locally. 

“I think we can get something passed,” Saine said. “I think our country is changing and if we have to try it every single meeting, maybe that's what we will do.” 

Changes to local abortion laws likely won't come quickly 

The effort is likely to face stiff headwinds from RHEA, the recently-passed state law guaranteeing abortion rights. Abortion rights supporters, including many Democratic lawmakers, have vowed to protect access in Colorado even if the Roe ruling falls, and the law contains language explicitly preventing local governments from passing more restrictive rules.

Prior to RHEA, Colorado law said little about abortion. A minor is required to notify at least one parent if she gets the procedure. And state health insurance can not pay for abortions unless the woman’s life is at risk. 

Other than that there are no waiting periods or restrictions. Colorado has long been one of few states that allow the procedure at any point in pregnancy. 

Weld is home to at least one clinic that provides abortion services. The center, a Planned Parenthood, lies within the city of Greeley, which could limit the county’s jurisdiction over it.

Saine said she plans to keep meeting with county commissioners and members of Weld’s faith community with the goal of getting a formal resolution on the agenda in the “coming weeks.”

Read more about what the potential loss of Roe v. Wade means for Colorado: