Colorado GOP warns abortion access must not be part of Space Command decision

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican state Rep. Dave Williams.

If there has been one issue that has unified Colorado’s political leaders in the past few years, it’s been keeping Space Command Headquarters in Colorado Springs.

Republicans and Democrats in Colorado’s congressional delegation have argued that the decision to move it from its temporary home at Peterson Space Force Base are fundamentally political, and that national security could suffer if the Air Force follows through.

But on Wednesday, Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams told his members that he’s concerned states’ abortion laws could be figuring into basing decisions — and that shouldn’t happen, even if it means the command moves to Alabama.

It’s a message he sent to President Joe Biden.

“If the main driving force to keep Space Command in Colorado Springs is Colorado’s unfettered abortion laws that provide no restrictions whatsoever, then we strongly affirm that Space Command should stay located in Alabama,” Williams wrote Biden.

Williams cited news stories saying abortion access might be a consideration in the final basing decision. Alabama has one of the country’s strictest bans on the procedure.

He said the decision to keep it in Colorado should be evaluated on “merits and strategic value.”

But in putting out his message to party members, Williams didn’t just take on the Democratic president; he also called out two fellow Republicans for not signing onto his letter: GOP Congressman Doug Lamborn and former Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

Asked about the letter, Lamborn was emphatic that abortion is not part of the equation.

“I’ve already made it real clear, and others have also, that abortion plays no part in this decision and should not play any part in this decision,” the congressman said.

Suthers called it all “nonsense.” He said, having spoken with Biden, the location decision will be made on the merits of “what’s in the interest of national defense and the American taxpayer.”

He said it was “irresponsible” for Williams to weigh in because abortion is irrelevant to the discussion.

Readiness and politics, not abortion

Lamborn, Suthers, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and a host of other elected leaders from both sides of the aisle have been making the case to locate the headquarters in Colorado for years.

They have drilled down on two issues.

The first, that then-President Donald Trump made the decision in his last week in office to move the headquarters, temporarily operating out of Colorado Springs, for political reasons. That argument was boosted by Trump, himself, who said on an Alabama radio station that he “single-handedly” made the call to move the command. Colorado lawmakers point out Air Force officials went in with then Peterson Air Force Base as their top recommendation.

Williams took issue with that argument in his letter, writing to Biden that “Trump was falsely accused of making an unfair ‘political’ decision” and it would be “hypocritical” if Biden’s administration kept Space Command in Colorado over abortion.

“This is what loyalty to Trump over the people you represent looks like,” said Hickenlooper in response to the letter.

Recently, Suthers wrote to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, to reiterate that it “wasn’t a merit-based decision on President Trump’s part.”

Joe Biden, Michael Bennet, John Suthers
Andrew Harnik/AP Photo
Air Force One is visible as President Joe Biden, center, speaks with by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., left, and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, right, as he arrives at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

And the entire Colorado Congressional delegation wrote to Biden when he first took office expressing their concerns that the process wasn’t fair or impartial and that Trump’s “political considerations influenced the final decision.”

The second issue is something called “full operational capability,” which Colorado officials argue wasn’t part of the Trump-era decision and should be. The command is expected to reach FOC in Colorado by the end of the year.

In a floor speech last month, Hickenlooper said FOC is the reason the command should stay in Colorado.

“Moving headquarters requires that we build new facilities, install secure communications infrastructure, and relocate or rehire our existing workforce,” Hickenlooper said. “Congress has never received an estimate for how much this would cost, even before factoring in the impact on national security. That’s neither efficient nor strategic. It would take years, years, to replicate the milestone of full operational capability. And every single member of this body knows that we simply don’t have that luxury. We don’t have that kind of time.”

Suthers talked about the decision with Biden last week when the president was in Colorado Springs, and said it was clear Biden was focused on where FOC was going to be achieved “the quickest and able to use Space Command in the national defense. And that’s the only thing that’s going to decide this issue.”

Bennet also met with Biden last week, where he reiterated the focus on national security. “Bennet believes any fair assessment that is rooted in national security, including the readiness of our troops, would keep Space Command in Colorado,” a Bennet spokesperson said.

Where abortion access fits in

The issue of abortion, however, has become conflated with the Space Command decision because of another Colorado – Alabama congressional fight: this one over military promotions.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Dobbs, the issue of abortion has been a political lightning rod, with some states protecting access and others limiting or banning the procedure. The Department of Defense, to ensure military members and their families have equal access to abortion care, instituted a policy of granting up to three weeks of military leave to seek abortion or other reproductive health care, should it require traveling.

In response, Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville placed a hold on routine military promotions the Senate usually approves quickly. He’s currently holding up more than 200 promotions, with the potential for hundreds more to be delayed this year.

Since March, Bennet has made it a mission to get the promotions cleared, with Tuberville or his allies objecting.

In some of those debates, Bennet has urged the Pentagon to consider access to reproductive care in basing decisions.

A recent news report indicates the Alabama delegation worries that abortion policy might play a role in the final basing decision. Colorado has protected access to abortion, while Alabama has banned the procedure in nearly all cases.

Both states are awaiting word from the Air Force about where the final basing decision will be.