Will abortion ruling drive Colorado Democrats, independents to the ballot box ahead of midterms?
Last fall, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to put a hold on a Texas law that restricted how long into a pregnancy abortion could be provided, Jenn Soley and Jessica Hughes felt compelled to do something to channel their anger at what they saw as an assault on their rights.
They didn’t know each other then, but were soon coordinating the Women’s March in Colorado Springs together. What they thought would be a quickly thrown-together protest swelled to 500-plus people combining their voices to a public shout of “my body, my choice.” Or, in what Soley called heartwarming solidarity, allied men shouted “their body, their choice.”
Eight months later, and they’re seeing that same energy again. This time, though, it’s not just about steering it onto the streets. They want it channeled into ballot boxes in the fall, epitomized by the movement’s new name: 90 Days of Rage.
For optimistic Democrats, it may be a political counter — albeit at the cost of fighting over what they see as individual rights for half the population — to headwinds typical of a midterm election for the majority party. But it’ll have to break through to voters facing high gas prices and unsteadying inflation that Republicans blame on the controlling party.
The momentum in the movement now is “fantastic,” Soley said on Friday, as they prepared for another rally in Colorado Springs on Saturday. But the goal isn’t just a burst of energy, she said. It’s about 90 days of harnessing that rage, organizing it to pressure candidates during fall townhalls and making their voices as progressives and people wanting to protect abortion rights heard in November.
“This is the way we engage the community and keep them focused on the mission,” Soley said. “What is the mission? The general election. We have got to take over … We have got to force those conservative ideas to the back. You only represent a very small section of this country.”
House candidate Rob Rogers, a Democrat running in a very Republican Colorado Springs district, said he initially planned to run on themes of unity and to avoid partisan third rails, such as guns and abortion rights. But the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, where the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade and ruled the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, changed things seemingly overnight, he said.
Now, it’s what voters want to talk about, Rogers said at a campaign event days after the decision.
“That’s going to be the undertone for everything for this cycle now,” he said. “… (90 Days of Rage activists are) very, very angry. And they’re right. They should be pushing that rage, because half this country now has less rights than the other half.”
But it may not be the main factor for every voter. His rival for the seat, Republican Rose Pugliese, said voters are more likely to show her receipts from grocery store trips and gas tank fill-ups than ask about abortion. She cited new fees imposed by the Democratic legislature as adding to worries for voters, particularly the unaffiliated voters she courted in the lead-up to the primary election.
“Obviously life issues are still really important issues, especially in my district,” Pugliese said, before noting Dobbs made it a state’s rights issue — albeit in a state with a “very permissive” abortion law. But she doubts it will be a focus on her race. “I know it’s easy for Democrats to pivot, but I think affordability is the issue people are focused on right now.”
And for anti-abortion voters who believe life begins in the womb, that’s always been a motivating factor, Focus on the Family spokesperson Paul Batura said. But while he marks the Dobbs decision as a “huge victory” for people who have fought against abortion for decades, state law also factors into their mood.
He said the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which was signed this spring and establishes the right to an abortion in Colorado law, “shocked” a lot of people due to its permissiveness toward abortion.
The law does not include limits on when a person may terminate their pregnancy. Before its signing, Colorado law did not address a limit on when a person may get an abortion. Republicans in the state legislature mounted heavy opposition to it, while Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said it “simply codifies existing protections in statute.”
“(Dobbs) is a watershed moment for life,” Batura said. “But if you’re only looking at the state-by-state motivation, I think the pro-life community was awaked months before Dobbs and the reversal or Roe.”
In Colorado, like much of the country, it’s unaffiliated voters who determine elections. Those voters eclipse each party in registration. And while recent shifts in abortion rights, both for and against them, may motivate the politically engaged, Democratic political consultant Ted Trimpa said he’s “frustratingly pessimistic” that abortion rights won’t break through to many who aren’t.
While it’s a dominating topic now, it’s a long time until November, he said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the fire (Democrats) want it to be,” Trimpa said, referring to motivating voters. “I hope I’m wrong.”