Bishop Berg asks for a 'yes' vote on prop 115 on abortion

Anthony A. Mestas

The Pueblo Chieftain

The initiative that would prohibit abortions after a fetus reaches 22 weeks gestational age has support from the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo. 

Bishop Stephen Berg told The Pueblo Chieftain that the issue of life is more important than any political personalities or political agendas.

"The issue is about the life of a human being," Berg said.

Currently, Colorado does not limit the gestational age at which an abortion can be performed. 

Under Proposition 115, which is on the ballot next month, performing a prohibited abortion would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, which would be punishable by a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000 and not by jail time. 

A woman who has a prohibited abortion would not be charged with a crime under the initiative. Medical professionals who are found to have performed the abortion would have their medical licenses suspended by the Colorado Medical Board for at least three years.

"With Proposition 115, a proposal that 43 states have already adopted, it would allow a 22-week-old unborn child to be allowed the same status of rights to be born into the world just like everyone else," Berg said.

Under the proposition, abortions after 22 weeks would be lawful if the physician believes it is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman. In such a situation, the physician would be allowed to rely on the gestational age assessment made by another physician.

State Rep. Daneya Esgar does not support Proposition 115.

The Pueblo Democrat said pregnancy is unique and no one can possibly know another person’s circumstances.

"That’s why decisions around pregnancy are best made by a woman and her family, in consultation with her doctors, and in accordance with her faith — not by politicians," she said.

"However we may feel about abortion at different points in a pregnancy, we don’t know the complex circumstances of someone else’s life or their healthcare needs. People need to make the best decision for their families without government interference.”

According to the 2020 State Ballot Information Booklet, in the argument against proposition 115, it reads, "Restricting access to abortion limits a woman's right to bodily autonomy and interferes with the patient and doctor relationship. The choice to end a pregnancy is often a serious and difficult decision and should be left solely up to the woman, in consultation with her doctor and in accordance with her beliefs."

"The measure does not include any exceptions for risks to the woman's health for a woman who has been the victim of rape or incest to obtain an abortion after 22 weeks. In addition, it provides no exceptions for the detection of a serious fetal abnormality after 22 weeks, which may force women to carry a nonviable pregnancy to term," according to the booklet.

In January, Berg backed a Senate Bill 100 that repealed Colorado's capital punishment saying at the time that the wounds and injustices that come from violent crimes made the debate very emotional.

“However, keeping the death penalty in place does not bring healing to victims, deter criminals, or respect the dignity of life in every circumstance,” Berg said in a statement sent to The Pueblo Chieftain in January.

“The Catholic Church has long taught that every person, whether they are unborn, sick, or a criminal has a God-given dignity that cannot be erased or taken away.”

Berg said this week, that it is disturbing to him that he and others have worked so hard to remove the death penalty for criminals in the respect of recognizing their right to live a life of dealing with the crimes they committed.

"We work really hard to heal the victims of those crimes and we still look at the 22-week-old as being something less. Something that lives under that death sentence," Berg said.

Berg said people have either heard of or know someone who was born at near 22-weeks-old that has come into a healthy life.

"These unborn children with medical assistance are able to go on with their lives. They taste, they sense, they feel. They can hear their mother's voice," Berg said.

"The bonding is already completed and they are ready to go. They have the characteristics that are going to carry them through their lives. So I don't think this is an inordinate request to vote in favor of this proposition."

Berg said he is very concerned with the fact that in some cases the woman's health is at risk during a pregnancy.

"In my family — of seven sisters and 20 plus nieces and add to that I have 20 plus nephews and their wives and their children — we all share the health concerns of all women," Berg said.

"We need to get medical assistance for these woman who are pregnant. We work with this with the A Caring Pregnancy Center along with walking with these women through these difficult pregnancies especially when they are alone and in tough circumstances."

Berg also addressed cases of rape and incest resulting in unwanted pregnancies.

"The circumstances of rape and incest resulting in unwanted pregnancy may be an issue that I don't fully understand. The statistics of these cases are so low, but it seems to me that at 22 weeks at least, we should be finding a way to give these unwanted babies a life through a safe medical process and adoption. There are many people out there, who want to adopt these children," Berg said.

"Rape and incest are horrible situations. It seems to me that we should be addressing rape and incest more directly first as a society. That is a separate issue. But a child of 22 weeks?  Isn't there a way we can work this out so a child who is innocent can have a chance at life?"

He said ending a life at 22 weeks is not the solution. 

"We can touch real lives somewhere somehow on this upcoming November ballot. Even better we will touch hidden, invisible lives, the unborn person who will be given a voice, the baby who will someday walk with somebody we don't know. The child will change the future for the better in a way we can't foresee," Berg said.

Chieftain reporter Anthony A. Mestas can be reached by email at amestas@chieftain.com or at twitter.com/mestas3517