Robyn Chambers got pregnant when she was 16. It was an accident. Her boyfriend was a freshman in college and she was afraid of what all of it would mean for her future. Would she still have friends? Would she be accepted? She said she understands the impulse to just want it to go away.
“Your immediate thought is ‘My life is over. My life is ruined. How can I fix this?’” she said.
More than 40 years later, Chambers is still married to that boyfriend. She has two children — including the son from her high school pregnancy — and three grandchildren. She’s also the executive director of advocacy for children at Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family.
The group’s fight to ban abortion isn’t the only work done by the evangelical nonprofit. But, it’s this work for which it is most famous, or infamous; an unapologetic pole in one of the most polarizing political debates in the country. It’s the work Chambers oversees.
Earlier this month, thousands tuned into a livestream or packed the organization’s main chapel for the group’s fourth annual “See Life” event. Throughout an evening which felt part Christian rock concert and part political rally, conservative commentators like talk show host Candace Owens and columnist Ben Shapiro tapped into clear enthusiasm for an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling widely expected to overturn the landmark abortion rights case, Roe v. Wade.
“We meet tonight on the verge of the greatest pro-life victory in half a century,” Shapiro told the cheering crowd, “and that’s when the fight truly begins.”
A Colorado Springs landmark
About 700 full-time employees work at the expansive Focus on the Family headquarters in northern Colorado Springs. There’s a highway sign marking the organization’s exit off Interstate 25; it’s the most prominent of several institutions cementing the state’s second-largest city as a national hub of evangelical culture and advocacy.
Robyn Chambers started at Focus as a temp worker in its call center in the early 1990s, shortly after the organization moved from its original home in Pomona, California. Nearly three decades later, as one of the nonprofit’s top leaders, she said the potential overturn of Roe gives Focus on the Family an opportunity to expand its scope, especially in the types of support it provides to those who decide to go through with unexpected pregnancies.
“We really want to investigate and research and then implement ways that we can help her find affordable housing, affordable childcare, medical care for her and her child long term. What does that look like?” Chambers said.
An abortion sanctuary
Even if the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe largely reflects the court’s final decision, access to abortion in Colorado will not change. The legislature, controlled by Democrats, voted to enshrine the right to abortion into state law just this spring.
In fact, if the court does overturn Roe, Colorado would become an island of more open abortion access compared to surrounding states. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains estimates the number of patients seeking the procedure in the state could jump at least 20 percent as a result.
There are some in the Colorado Springs Christian community who are grateful for the new law.
“Colorado Springs is characterized as a very conservative town that has pretty unified thinking on [abortion access], but it’s just a matter of correcting them and saying ‘No, there’s actually lots of perspectives here,’” said Bill Kemp, moderator of First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs.
Kemp’s church is part of the United Church of Christ, often considered the most progressive sect of Christianity in the U.S. Outside their downtown chapel hang both Pride and Black Lives Matter flags. Kemp also described the congregation as decidedly in favor of abortion access.
On the last weekend in May, the church heard a sermon from the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Dorhauer was opposed to abortion until his early adulthood and said he still understands the moral position against it.
“What I cannot understand is as a citizen in America, what do you think gives you the right to claim that religious moral position and impose it on another?” Dorhauer said. “The United States of America was birthed with the understanding that church and state would be separate.”
Pregnancy resource centers in middle of fight
Life Network is a series of pregnancy resource centers in Colorado Springs. They are the sort of places often criticized by abortion rights advocates as unethical or even illegitimate medical operations that want all pregnancies, wanted or not, to be carried to term.
Network President Rich Bennett does not try to downplay his organization’s Christian affiliation or its close ties to Focus on the Family. Bennett himself used to work at Focus.
Immediately past the waiting room door at one of the center’s three locations in Colorado Springs, there’s a large closet full of free supplies for expectant parents to help care for children at different life stages ranging from a few months to several years old. Then, past ultrasound machines and comfortable consultation suites, is another room filled with colorful baby clothes, cribs and car seats — all offered for free.
Bennett was adamant his staff does not attempt to pressure those who seek their services and dismissed critics.
“We have medically credentialed individuals who are well trained to provide care, compassion and support to people who … are facing often the biggest decision of their young lives,” Bennett said.
Center nurse manager Andrée Baker said while Life Network does not provide abortion services, she said they have resources for those who do choose to end a pregnancy through abortion.
“We value the moms and the dads here and we want to walk with them whichever way, whichever path, they end up walking after meeting with us,” Baker said.
If Roe is overturned, Bennett expects not only that more patients will seek an abortion in Colorado, but he thinks his centers will see more clients as well. He’s already seen an uptick following new abortion restrictions passed in states like Texas and Oklahoma.
“We’re definitely seeing more calls from out of state than we’ve ever seen,” Bennett said.
A national battleground
Unsurprisingly, how the country will respond to a post-Roe legal landscape depends on who you talk to.
Rev. Dorhauer, of the United Church of Christ, predicted that regardless of the ultimate decision handed down by the court, the partisan divisiveness around the abortion debate is destined for “catastropic proportions.”
“Both sides are so morally outraged at the position held by the other and have invested so much of their emotional wellbeing in the outcome of this, that it doesn’t matter which way the court moves,” he said.
A few days after he spoke at the Colorado Springs church, Dorhauer met with President Joe Biden at the White House about the issue.
Meanwhile, Robyn Chambers is less concerned. She said losing Roe’s nationwide abortion protections would put the power back in the hands of state governments, which she described as good for democracy.
She recognized the irony that her organization, one of the nation’s most powerful anti-abortion advocacy groups, resides in a state which just passed some of the most progressive abortion policies in the country. However, she framed that as a positive as well.
“If we don’t want to be known as an abortion sanctuary state, what do we do?” Chambers said. “It’s an opportunity for us to be strong right here in our backyard, and then from there reach out nationally. So, I’m thrilled that Focus on the Family is in Colorado. I believe it is God-ordained that we are here for this time.”
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