Colorado Primaries Test Abortion Issue’s Potency With Voters

  • Republican Senate primary leader supports abortion rights
  • Democrats rallying supporters on issue to boost turnout

Colorado’s primaries Tuesday provide a test of abortion rights politics days after the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Democrats have highlighted the issue on the campaign trail in an attempt to activate their base ahead of November. More immediately, Republicans are set to find out whether absolutism on the issue tanks a promising candidacy.

Joe O’Dea, a construction company owner and the favorite to win the nomination, is a rare Republican candidate for federal office who supports allowing abortions early in the pregnancy and in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk. His opponent, state Rep. Ron Hanks, has blasted him for it on the airwaves, forcing O’Dea to respond.

Which one of them emerges with the nomination will signal to what extent the issue outweighs all others among Republicans in the state. With O’Dea the stronger general-election contender, it will also affect how competitive Sen. Michael Bennet‘s (D) re-election is and whether Republicans will have an additional offensive opportunity to win the Senate majority.

O’Dea told reporters Monday he doesn’t support “late-term abortion” and doesn’t support “no abortion at all,” as does Hanks.

“I would support a bill that allowed that decision to stay between a mother and her god,” O’Dea said at a phone banking event Monday in Denver.

O’Dea, who says he was adopted at birth, said the issue is “deeply personal” to him.

“I just think about how brave my biological mother must have been to carry me to term and turn me over to two loving parents,” O’Dea said. “That helped me be the person I am.”

Hanks last week praised the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision as “the restoration of states’ rights” and blasted O’Dea as a “squishy” Republican who’d “vote with the Democrats.”

Hanks ran a radio ad earlier this month saying, “I am pro-life. My opponent is not.”

O’Dea in turn has run TV and radio ads lambasting Hanks for reneging on his support for abortion in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother when he sought a House seat in California under the name Loren Hanks. Hanks’ campaign didn’t return a request for comment on the O’Dea ads.

Photographer: Zach C. Cohen
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) speaks at an abortion-rights protest outside the Colorado Capitol in Denver on June 27.

On the Trail

Although Colorado state law guarantees the right to have an abortion, the Supreme Court decision provided a new sense of urgency to Democrats campaigning in Colorado to hold the Senate seat and win a couple of competitive House seats.

“We can’t let the Supreme Court have the last word,” Bennet said at a campaign event in Denver. “That’s why we have to elect pro-choice majorities in the House, in the Senate.”

“I hope that our base is reminded to step up and vote this year,” state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, the lone Democrat running for the open 7th District seat, said at the same event.

Democrats on Tuesday are slated to nominate Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician and state legislator, for a new House seat in Colorado’s northern suburbs. In an interview at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee office in her hometown of Thornton, Caraveo said 8th District voters feared not only the loss of abortion rights but of other rights the Supreme Court has allowed in previous cases.

“It’s not something I’ve shied away from,” Caraveo said. “It’s definitely an issue that voters are interested in.”

Caraveo recalled the first time she counseled a pregnant patient on her options, which included abortion. The 14-year-old girl, Caraveo said, had come in for a stomach ache unaware she was pregnant.

“Pregnancy and abortion care are health care, and so it’s something I think affects every medical provider,” Caraveo said.

8th District Republicans

Abortion rights will likely be an issue, regardless of which Republican Caraveo faces.

State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer (R) called Colorado’s current abortion law “radical” in an interview at a diner in Brighton. While Kirkmeyer acknowledged Congress has “some kind of role” in legislating on abortion rights, she emphasized that the court decided the issue “should be left up to the states and to the people in that state, and that’s where I think it should be.”

In an interview minutes before the Supreme Court decision was announced, Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann (R), another 8th District candidate, said Colorado’s current law has “gone way too far” in permitting abortions.

“What I like about the overturning of Roe v. Wade is it brings the control back to the states,” Kulmann said. “And in Colorado, we love home rule. We love local control. We want to have a voice, and it gives Coloradans that voice.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Zach C. Cohen in Denver at; Patty Nieberg in Denver at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at; Katherine Rizzo at