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Bruce threatens city hospital

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Anti-tax activist and county commissioner candidate Douglas Bruce is threatening to launch efforts to auction off Memorial Hospital if officials don't strengthen its ban on abortions.

Last week, Bruce appeared before the 17-member board and told them their policy to restrict abortions -- which was adopted just last month -- was too open to interpretation. He demanded they ban all abortion at the city-owned hospital except when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. Last month the hospital board banned all elective abortions. The board also ended abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and requires doctors to provide a medical reason for other abortions.

Bruce's latest demands left some observers dismissive.

"He's using scare tactics," said Georgia Moen, who attended the board meeting along with 25 other pro-choice supporters. "He's trying to bully to get what he wants. He has no regard for women's health."

If trustees don't cave, Bruce said he'd push a ballot proposal that states that any municipal hospital health worker involved in an abortion not considered a life-or-death emergency for the mother would be banned from city-paid health-care employment.

Moreover, if the hospital allows three "unacceptable" abortions within 36 months, the estimated $300-million hospital would be subject to auction.

Voters would have to decide to sell the hospital and the profits would be divided among those who voted, he said. People opposed to "infanticide and to municipal socialism" would be likely supporters, he added.

Very few abortions are done at the hospital -- 17 last year. Last month the board voted to further restrict the procedure. In a statement, hospital spokeswoman Rita Burns noted that "the board has made their decision on this issue and doesn't plan on revisiting it anytime in the near future."

Lenox Powell, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said trustees had already made a mistake by restricting abortion.

"When you put a policy into place that restricts and limits a doctor's ability to provide appropriate and complete health care to that woman, you threaten the woman's health," Powell told trustees.

Meanwhile, Bruce says City Council could face some kind of pressure to act, declining to say exactly from where such pressure would emanate.

"Most council members, if you polled them, would probably say they are pro-life," Bruce said.

Mayor Lionel Rivera, who considers abortion the "taking of a life," has no plans to ask the council to place Bruce's proposal on the council agenda, one way to get it to voters.

"Sometimes I wonder if he's genuine or if he's trying to draw attention to himself," Rivera said.

The mayor added that he backs the trustees' recent decision to limit abortion. He sees no reason for the council to step in and also favors keeping the hospital in the city's hands.

If both the council and trustees ignore him, Bruce said he would be open to working with anti-abortion groups to place the measure on a future ballot.

Councilman Richard Skorman, who says doctors should be the ones to justify abortions at Memorial, was perturbed by Bruce's proposal, which brings up an old debate about selling the hospital -- one, he said, that appeared dead.

"I'd hope that we'd never risk the hospital for a political reason," he said. "It would obviously be a huge, huge issue because the hospital is an important safety net for our community."

-- Michael de Yoanna

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