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Memorial Hospital abortion ban expected


Demonstrators downtown last week showed their - support for reproductive rights. - CREIGHTON SMITH
  • Creighton Smith
  • Demonstrators downtown last week showed their support for reproductive rights.

As a truck displaying a gory anti-abortion message cruised Colorado Springs last week, top Memorial Hospital decision-makers quietly drafted a new policy to end no-questions-asked abortions at the city-owned hospital.

The proposed written abortion policy -- Memorial Hospital's first -- would require doctors to provide a "documented medical reason" before performing an abortion, said hospital spokeswoman Rita Burns. The hospital's board of trustees could vote on the proposal as early as this week.

"I would hope women's best health-care interests are being kept in mind and that this has nothing to do with politics," said Lenox Powell, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

The move, some pro-choice advocates said, was symbolic of recent efforts to reduce abortion options amid anti-abortion election hype that spawned a small protest last Sunday. Pro-choice advocates gathered downtown to oppose the California-based religious group, Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which manned a truck displaying the word "Choice" superimposed over bloody images. The truck was driven nonstop around Colorado Springs for several days last week.

"The message is offensive," said Georgia Moen, a protester and office manager at a local college.

Not so subtle

In February, the California organization deployed a fleet of trucks -- and even an airplane with a banner -- with the hope of focusing attention on abortion in states where voters are closely divided between President Bush and his opponent John F. Kerry. As a nonprofit, the center cannot endorse a presidential candidate, but "after seeing this, voters can figure out who to vote for," said Mark Harrington, the center's Midwest director.

The not-so-subtle inference is that people against abortion should vote for Bush because the Republican Party at the convention last month urged a "human life" amendment to the Constitution that would make abortion illegal.

The politics riled Christine Hudson, a Colorado Springs Catholic who shares Democrat Kerry's view that abortion is wrong, but should be decided by each woman.

Hudson was also exasperated that a Christian organization would sponsor a campaign that exposes young children to gruesome depictions of aborted fetuses on the truck. After seeing the truck circling around Acacia Park, Hudson called police and congressional offices to complain, but was told nothing could be done because of the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech.

"Nevertheless, I think it's very obscene," she said.

Nationwide, abortion opponents are agitating to reduce women's options, a change from the past emphasis on overturning the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade. For example, the Ohio-based nonprofit Pharmacists for Life International is urging pharmacists who oppose abortion to refuse to dispense contraceptive drugs that prevent an egg from traveling to the uterus. The group labels the so-called "morning after pill" a form of chemical "killing."

"Many chains are allowing -- one way or another -- the pharmacist to refuse to dispense these pills," said Karen Brauer, president of the organization.

In the best interest

Rumors that Memorial Hospital was reviewing its abortion policy had circulated at least since July, said Dr. Andrew Fowler, a Colorado Springs gynecologist. That's when Douglas Bruce, a local landlord running for the county commission as a Republican, criticized primary opponent City Councilwoman Margaret Radford's record on abortion. Bruce accused Radford of not doing enough in her official capacity to prevent abortions at the hospital, which is ultimately overseen by City Council.

Radford had deflected the charge, telling the Colorado Springs Gazette: "Every single time I have asked, and I have asked repeatedly... we have been told we do not do voluntary abortion."

But two such abortions by choice had been carried out at the hospital in 2004, prior to Radford's remarks.

Board of Trustees Chairman Curtis C. Brown said politics didn't come into play in crafting the policy. Instead Radford's remarks highlighted that the hospital's policy was unclear, he said.

"We just considered it was in the best interest of the hospital," he said.

But Powell says the hospital's proposal to require documented medical reasons appears too vague and could be open to broad interpretation. Abortions can be medically justified not just for saving a mother's life, she said, but also for other reasons, such as rape or the age of the mother.

"An anti-choice person might think differently than someone else," she noted.

Numbers have declined

Brown expects a majority of the 17-member board will approve the policy as proposed in a Sept. 23 meeting.

The number of abortions performed at Memorial Hospital has declined in recent years. In 2001, there were 33 abortions performed at the hospital -- 30 considered "elective," meaning they were carried out at the discretion of the woman. Last year, just 17 abortions were performed, eight considered "elective."

The decline could be a reflection of increased use of emergency contraception pills, Brown said, but he wasn't certain.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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