One of the most powerful anti-abortion organizations lives in Colorado, a state that could soon see many more abortions

Robyn Chambers got pregnant at 16. It was an accident. Her boyfriend was a freshman in college and she was afraid of what all of this would mean for his future. Would she still have friends? Would she be accepted? She said she understood the impulse to just want it to go away.

“Your immediate thought is ‘My life is over. My life is ruined. How can I fix this?’” she said.

More than 40 years later, Chambers is still married to this boyfriend. She has two children – including the son from her high school pregnancy – and three grandchildren. She is also the executive director of children’s advocacy at Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family.

The group’s fight to ban abortion is not the only work done by the non-profit evangelical association. But, it is this work for which he is most famous, or infamous; an unabashed pole in one of the country’s most polarizing political debates. This is the work that Chambers oversees.

Earlier this month, thousands tuned in to a live stream or packed the organization’s main chapel for the group’s fourth annual “See Life” event. Throughout an evening that felt part Christian rock concert part political rally, conservative commentators like talk show host Candace Owens and columnist Ben Shapiro tapped into obvious enthusiasm for a decision coming from the widely expected U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the landmark abortion rights case, Roe v. Wade.

“We come together tonight on the brink of the biggest pro-life victory in half a century,” Shapiro told the cheering crowd, “and that’s where the fight really begins.”

Dan Boyce/CPR News
Conservative media personality Ben Shapiro addresses the See Life 2022 event at Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs on June 14, 2022.
220613-FOCUS-ON-THE-FAMILYHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Focus on family in Colorado Springs.

A landmark in Colorado Springs

About 700 full-time employees work at Focus on the Family’s sprawling headquarters in northern Colorado Springs. There is a road sign indicating the organization’s exit on Interstate 25; it is the most important of several institutions cementing the state’s second-largest city as a national hub of evangelical culture and advocacy.

Robyn Chambers started at Focus as a temp in its call center in the early 1990s, shortly after the organization moved from its original home in Pomona, California. Nearly three decades later, as one of the nonprofit’s top leaders, she said Roe’s potential overthrow gives Focus on the Family an opportunity to broaden its reach, by particularly in the types of support it offers to those who decide to experience unexpected pregnancies. .

“We really want to investigate and research and then implement ways to help her find affordable housing, affordable child care, medical care for her and her child long term. What does it look like?” Chambers said.

An abortion sanctuary

Even though Supreme Court’s draft opinion leaked overturning Roe largely reflects the court’s final decision, abortion access in Colorado will not change. The Democratic-controlled legislature voted to enshrine abortion rights into state law this spring.

In fact, if the court overturns Roe, Colorado would become a more open abortion access island than surrounding states. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains estimates that the number of patients requesting the procedure in the state could increase by at least 20% as a result.

Some members of the Colorado Springs Christian community are grateful for the new law.

FOCUS-ON-THE-FAMILYDan Boyce/CPR News
First Congregational Church moderator Bill Kemp closes his eyes in prayer during a service on May 29, 2022.
FOCUS-ON-THE-FAMILYDan Boyce/CPR News
United Church of Christ General Minister and President Reverend John Dorhauer speaks with Reverend Jacque Franklin of First Congregational Church during a service May 29, 2022.
FOCUS-ON-THE-FAMILYDan Boyce/CPR News
The First Congregational Church in downtown Colorado Springs is part of the United Church of Christ, widely considered the most progressive sect of Christianity in the United States.

“Colorado Springs is characterized as a very conservative city that has a fairly unified thinking about [abortion access]but it’s just a matter of correcting them and saying, ‘No, there’s actually a lot of insight here,’” said Bill Kemp, moderator of First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs.

Kemp’s church is part of the United Church of Christ, often considered the most progressive sect of Christianity in the United States. Outside their downtown chapel, the Pride and Black Lives Matter flags hang. Kemp also described the congregation as strongly in favor of abortion access.

The last weekend in May, the church heard a sermon from the Reverend John C. Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Dorhauer opposed abortion into adulthood and said he always understood the moral stance against it.

“What I can’t understand is that as an American citizen, what do you think gives you the right to claim this religious moral position and impose it on another?” said Dorhauer. “The United States of America was born with the understanding that church and state would be separate.”

Pregnancy Resource Centers in the Battle

Life Network is a series of pregnancy resource centers in Colorado Springs. These are the kind of places often criticized by advocates of abortion rights as unethical, even illegitimate, medical procedures that want all pregnancies, intended or not, to be carried to term.

Network president Rich Bennett doesn’t try to downplay his organization’s Christian affiliation or its close ties to Focus on the Family. Bennett himself worked at Focus.

Immediately past the door to the waiting room at any of the center’s three locations in Colorado Springs, there is a large closet full of free supplies for expectant parents to help care for children at various stages of pregnancy. life ranging from a few months to several years. Then, past the ultrasound machines and cozy consulting rooms, is another room filled with colorful baby clothes, cribs and car seats, all free.

Bennett insisted his staff did not attempt to pressure those seeking their services and dismissed the criticism.

“We have medically educated people who are well trained to provide care, compassion and support to people who … are often faced with the biggest decision of their young lives,” Bennett said.

The center’s nurse-in-charge, Andrée Baker, said that although Life Network does not provide abortion services, she said they have resources for those who choose to end a pregnancy through abortion.

“We appreciate the moms and dads here and want to walk with them in whatever way, whatever path they end up walking after they meet us,” Baker said.

If Roe is canceled, Bennett not only expects more patients to seek abortions in Colorado, but he thinks his centers will also see more clients. He’s already seen a slight increase following new restrictions on abortion passed in states like Texas and Oklahoma.

“We’re definitely seeing more calls from out of state than we’ve ever seen,” Bennett said.

FOCUS-ON-THE-FAMILYDan Boyce/CPR News
Robyn Chambers, Focus on the Family’s executive director for child advocacy, stands in front of a prayer wall in the organization’s “Chapelteria” on May 20, 2022.
FOCUS-ON-THE-FAMILYDan Boyce/CPR News
A selection of infant and toddler clothing items offered free of charge at the Life Network Pregnancy Resource Center in Colorado Springs.

A national battlefield

Not surprisingly, how the country will react to a post-Roe legal landscape depends on who you talk to.

The Reverend Dorhauer of the United Church of Christ predicted that whatever the court’s final decision, the partisan division around the abortion debate is destined to “catastrophic proportions”.

“Both sides are so morally outraged by the position the other occupies and have so invested their emotional well-being in the outcome of this, that it doesn’t matter which direction the court moves,” he said. declared.

A few days after speaking at the church in Colorado Springs, Dorhauer met with President Joe Biden at the White House about the issue.

Meanwhile, Robyn Chambers is less concerned. She said the loss of national abortion protections from Roe would put power back in the hands of state governments, which she described as good for democracy.

She acknowledged the irony that her organization, one of the most powerful anti-abortion advocacy groups in the country, resides in a state that has just adopted some of the most progressive abortion policies in the country. However, she also called it a positive.

“If we don’t want to be known as an abortion sanctuary state, what do we do? Chambers said. “It’s an opportunity for us to be strong right here in our backyard and then from there to scale nationally. So, I’m thrilled that Focus on the Family is in Colorado. I believe God ordained us to be here this time.

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