A trio of Democratic state lawmakers plans to introduce a bill that, if passed, would enshrine abortion rights in state law.
The policy is planned as a backstop in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established the constitutional right to abortion. While Coloradans currently have access to abortion at all stages of pregnancy, the bill would add an affirmative statement to that effect in Colorado law.
“We want to ensure to Coloradans that their fundamental right to abortion will be protected,” said Aurea Bolaños Perea, spokesperson for Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, or COLOR, which is backing the bill.
State Rep. Meg Froelich, a Greenwood Village Democrat, is sponsoring the bill along with House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat, and Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Democrat from Denver. The lawmakers first announced their intention to run the bill during a December news conference. Froelich later provided more details.
“It will state clearly that access to abortion and the full range of reproductive health care – so, ‘full range of reproductive health care, including abortion,’ is the way that we talk about it – is a fundamental right in Colorado and that the government cannot interfere with that right,” Froelich told Newsline.
The bill would attest to the rights of all Coloradans to access, and to refuse, reproductive or contraceptive care.
“Keeping abortion legal is necessary, but legality alone is not and has never been enough,” Rep. Lisa Cutter, the Dakota Ridge Democrat who chairs the Democratic Women’s Caucus of Colorado, said at a news conference last week. The caucus is promoting the abortion rights bill as part of its legislative agenda.
“We are taking action so that people can get the abortion care they need, raise their families in safety and live in thriving communities, and it’s going to take all of us working together,” Cutter said.
With 90 new laws that seek to restrict abortion in 18 other states, supporters of the bill want to bring peace of mind to Colorado’s communities of color and LGBTQ people, Bolaños Perea said.
“We are part of this movement for reproductive justice and abortion access because the folks that are impacted are people that we know, are stories that we share,” she said. “We must reclaim our power and rebuild our movement again, and we know that it’s going to take a lot of strength.”
In December, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case concerning Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That’s about two weeks earlier than what’s currently permitted under Roe v. Wade, which established the right to abortion after fetal viability – in other words, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb.
If the court upholds Mississippi’s ban, that could lead to a reconsideration of Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court currently has a 6-3 conservative majority.
Previously, the Roe v. Wade decision was seen as a “floor” for abortion rights in the U.S., Froelich said. The upcoming bill “sets the floor” in case the decision is overturned. “Judging from recent (Supreme Court) decisions and oral arguments,” she added, “I think we’re seeing that we’re going to be living in a post-Roe world.”
Legislatures in 22 states, throughout much of the Midwest and South, would probably move to ban or greatly restrict abortion should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, according to an analysis by the New York Times. So, other states, such as Colorado, are seeking to shore up abortion rights in order to let it be known where they stand on the issue.
Two other states, Virginia and Oregon, have passed reproductive rights laws that are similar to the Colorado bill, Bolaños Perea said.
Besides writing reproductive rights into state law, the bill being drafted would prohibit any personhood rights from being assigned to embryos or fetuses. Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected constitutional amendments in 2008, 2010 and 2014 that would have assigned certain legal rights associated with “personhood” to the unborn.
The bill will use gender-neutral language when talking about pregnant people, to make sure Colorado laws are inclusive of the LGBTQ community.
If Colorado’s reproductive rights bill passes, it would theoretically still be possible – given the political will – to pass a new law banning or greatly restricting abortion, assuming Roe v. Wade is overturned. But that would be extremely unlikely without a conservative takeover of all levels of state government.
While Democratic lawmakers generally work to protect and expand abortion rights, Republicans typically introduce at least one bill each year seeking to restrict them. Such Republican bills are largely symbolic in Colorado, since the party is in the minority in the House and Senate and the the governor is a Democrat.
Earlier this month, Castle Rock Republican Rep. Patrick Neville introduced House Bill 22-1047. The long-shot bill would prohibit most abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest. Under the proposed law, doctors who performed an illegal abortion would be guilty of a class 1 felony. Pregnant people would not be subject to criminal penalties.
Abortions would be legal only if “designed or intended to prevent the death of a pregnant mother,” if the doctor made “reasonable medical efforts” to save the lives of both mother and child; or if medical treatment such as chemotherapy or removal of an ectopic pregnancy resulted in an accidental abortion.
Rep. Dave Williams, a Republican from Colorado Springs, went further. His House Bill 22-1079, introduced Jan. 20, would define a person to include an unborn child under state laws relating to civil courts, homicide and assault, thus prohibiting abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with no explicit exceptions for rape, incest or saving the mother’s life.
The bill would require judges to prosecute abortions as murder cases without regard for Supreme Court decisions. Any Colorado judge who tried to enjoin, stay, overrule or void the bill would be subject to impeachment or removal.
Republican Rep. Stephanie Luck of Cañon City introduced House Bill 22-1075, which would require abortion providers to report non-identifying information about women who obtain abortions to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Doctors and nurses that failed to submit the required information could be subject to discipline.
The state registrar of vital statistics would have to create an annual report summarizing the information on women who obtain abortions. While the report itself would be publicly available, the raw data submitted by abortion providers would be restricted.
None of the Republican-led bills is likely to pass. However, Colorado requires that all bills introduced by state lawmakers get a committee hearing with the opportunity for members of the public to testify. Hearing dates will be posted on the Colorado General Assembly’s website.
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