April 24, 2007 7:56 AM
When Colorado was ground zero in abortion battle
Forty years ago today, Colorado became the focal point of the nation's abortion debate when Gov. John Love signed the nation's first bill widening the access to legal abortion, reports Lisa Ryckman.
Mary Rita Urbish remembers perfectly the moment 40 years ago when Colorado became ground zero in the battle over abortion.
It was April 25, 1967 - the day a proposal by a legislator named Lamm was signed into law by a governor named Love, making the state the first in the nation to liberalize its abortion law. In that moment, as supporters cheered the potential end of illegal abortions, a social movement was born.
"I was so angry," said Urbish, one of the founders of Colorado Right to Life. "It's like a continuous loop in my mind that just runs and runs and runs and runs. It makes me mad to think about it, even now, 40 years later."
The bill, introduced by Richard Lamm - then a freshman state legislator, later the governor - in the wake of the consequences of illegal "back-alley" abortions and the number of births by girls ages 12 to 19.
His proposal, based on the recommendations of the American Law Institute, allowed a three-doctor panel to approve abortions in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal defects, to save a woman's life or if the pregnancy threatened her physical or mental health.
In 1966, just one therapeutic abortion was performed at Denver General Hospital under the old law, which allowed abortion only to save a woman's life or prevent serious bodily injury. That same year, 27 women were admitted to the hospital because of botched abortion attempts, and 208 girls ages 12 to 19 gave birth there.
"Prior to that bill, it was just totally illegal, and all the abortions were in back rooms," said John Bermingham, a Denver Republican who was the bill's chief Senate sponsor. "(The bill) just seemed like the right thing to do. Back-room abortions were disgraceful."
The University of California School of Public Health estimated that before 1966, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 women died each year in the U.S. from complications of illegal abortions.