Colorado

Catholics in Colorado are hoping to change hearts — and laws — about state access to abortion

Mary Vulcani felt this way as she sat in the vestibule of the basilica before Mass.

“I think it’s a darker tone today. Obviously very spiritual, very prayerful,” said Vulcani, who is the dean of undergraduates at Holy Family High School in Denver.

Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila spoke about current media and culture and the impact on how women are perceived. He also threw in a Kardashishian reference to prove his point.

“If you look at people like the Kardashians, and that’s what a woman should look like,” Aquila said. “The media plays it up and then young women look at you and say, ‘I don’t look like that at all.’ Something must be wrong with you. My daughters, you are beautiful. You are beautiful in the eyes of God.”

He urged Catholics to change their perception of women.

“Are we looking at other people with their inherent dignity? If everyone looked at each other with this awareness, there would be no abortion. We allowed the culture to court that,” Aquila said.

Catholics make up 16 percent of Colorado’s population. That’s according to the Pew Research Center. Nationally, Pew noted that a majority of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in some cases, despite church teaching that considers abortion immoral.

ARCHDIOCESE OF DENVER ROE V WADE 2Tony Gorman/CPR News
Students at St. John Paul the Great Catholic High School place candles and flowers next to photos of babies during the Memorial Mass procession.

Last year, the US Supreme Court upheld Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey up. It allowed states to create their own laws on abortion, many of which banned the procedure in whole or in part. Colorado did the complete opposite.

Months before the repeal, Gov. Jared Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act into law, ensuring protection of abortion rights in Colorado.

Opponents of abortion rights have said the state would become a target for the procedure. The numbers support this assumption. Colorado saw a 125 percent increase in patients traveling from abroad for abortions last year compared to 2021, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Health.

“It’s really heartbreaking for me to believe that the state I live in is a place where people come to end the life of their unborn child,” Vulcani said. “Well, that’s a very sobering thought. And again, it’s not just about changing the law. It’s not just about knocking out Roe against Wade. We really need to change people’s hearts.”

The Colorado Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s four bishops, believes Colorado’s law has opened the door for expanding abortion rights.

“They have already made it clear that they will try to attract more abortionists to the state of Colorado. We don’t have a clear message on how that’s going to look in terms of legislation,” said Brittany Vessely, Executive Director of the Colorado Catholic Conference on the progressive majority who are radically pro-abortion.”

The four Colorado bishops responded with an open letter urging Catholic lawmakers who voted in favor of the law to forego communion.

Catholics with anti-abortion rights views from other states have also noted the difference in Colorado’s culture when it comes to reproductive rights.

The problem hits Carrie Nolan at home. The former school teacher and singer previously lived in Oklahoma, which has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. She said her mother had an abortion before her parents met.

“My mom told us this when we were young that she had an abortion and she regretted it immensely,” Nolan said.

She said she regretted it too. Nolan has eight siblings and wishes she could have met a ninth.

“Even if she had the child and put it up for adoption, I would try to find that person because I want to get to know them because they are my blood. I want to know who they are and I never had that chance.”

Last summer, Nolan moved to Colorado and works as a medical assistant. She did campaign work and spoke to people about the issue. Nolan believes Colorado has more pro-choice advocates than any state she’s ever lived in.

“I was just getting their opinions and listening to them,” Nolan said. “They couldn’t understand that I was a woman and for life. They thought it was strange. And I find it strange that women think it’s a good thing that they should take a very incredible ability that they have, which is to have a child, to have another human being, and just throw that away and not that as an honor and a responsibility that is beautiful and really should be protected.”

Lorina Clemence agrees.

“In Colorado, especially in Denver, I find that there is a very concentrated group of strong young adult Catholics. However, the state and the city, particularly as a whole, are more liberal,” Clemence said.

ARCHDIOCESE OF DENVER ROE V WADE 3Tony Gorman/CPR News
Lorina Clemence, Carrie Nolan, and Brittany Vessely, Executive Director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, from left in the antechamber of the Cathedral Basilica of Immaculate Conception after Roe v. Calf. All three Catholic women are against abortion.

Clemence, who is also a former teacher, grew up Catholic and lived across the country because of her military family. She said she rebelled against her beliefs in her teens. But she returned during her sophomore year.

Clemence moved to Colorado a year and a half ago and works for a nutrition company. She said she is proud of women who have chosen to keep their children.

“I have a couple of friends who had kids at a very young age like 17 in high school,” Clemence said. “And the fact that they were able to make that decision and commit to something like that is a very life changing decision that requires a lot of responsibility.”

For Catholics like Nolan and Clemence, Colorado’s abortion laws are not a roadblock. They plan to continue the fight against legal abortion in Colorado.

Vessely said the Colorado Catholic Conference will continue to offer alternatives to abortion through ministries and pregnancy centers.

“The Catholic Church continues to provide a continuum of care, both antenatal and postnatal, for families throughout their lifespan, as well as psychological help, counseling, and material assistance through diapers, clothing, and food sources,” Vessley said.

Clemence plans to volunteer at one of these centers and hopes to make a difference.

“Women in Colorado need to know that they are loved and supported and that they can do this,” Clemence said. “And I look forward to seeing so many women making the difficult, self-sacrificing decision to keep their child and the fruits that will result.”

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