NewsLocal News


Colorado House advances abortion access bill after record-breaking legislative debate

abortion debate.png
Posted at 6:44 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-12 18:48:39-05

DENVER — After a 14-hour committee debate where hundreds of people signed up to testify, Colorado lawmakers endured another 23 hours of discussion, which set a record for the longest legislative debate in Colorado history, over a bill to guarantee access to abortion in the state.

House Bill 22-1279 was advanced in the House after a preliminary voice vote in the Democratic-majority chamber Saturday morning. A final vote is expected next week and will eventually move on to the Senate, where Democrats also hold the majority.

HB 22-1279 does three main things:

  • It guarantees a person’s right to use or not use contraception
  • It affirms that abortions are legal in the state
  • It prohibits state and local entities from denying, interfering with, or discriminating against someone who has an abortion
  • It prohibits state and local entities from prosecuting or punishing someone who has an abortion

While the public had a chance to weigh in on the merits of the bill during the committee hearing, Friday’s debate was a chance for state lawmakers to speak at length about their thoughts on the bill.

The debate started a little before 11 a.m. on the House floor.

For the bill’s co-sponsors, this is the right solution at the right time. Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Arapahoe County, is one of the bill’s prime sponsors and she said Democrats have spent a lot of time talking to stakeholders and drafting a bill they believe is effective.

“We'll go into the night, and we'll hear all sorts of arguments about why this isn't the answer, but we already know that a significant number of us feel that now is the time and this is the moment and this is the bill,” Froelich said.

During the debate on the House floor, lawmakers took time to share personal stories about what this bill and abortion access means to them. Rep. Andrew Boesenecker shared publicly for the first time that he and his wife made the difficult decision to have an abortion for their third child after doctors told them the fetus had no heartbeat.

Boesenecker said it was a fear he always had a parent and now his fear is that without a bill like this, other families will not have the chance to make a similar decision if they need to.

Rep. Hugh McKean, meanwhile, shared a story about the decision he and his ex-wife had made to have their daughter despite being told by doctors she would have serious heart defects.

Lawmakers debated the legality of the bill, the necessity of the bill and its overall merits.

“Ultimately, this boils down to what will bring life and thriving into Colorado. That's what we all want, I believe both sides of the aisle want to see life and want to see thriving. The question is, what does that look like?” said Rep. Stephanie Luck, R-Fremont. “Our side would say women deserve better than abortion.”

Luck said she believes this is the wrong debate altogether. She believes voters or local governments should have the right to choose whether this is something they want to see codified in law.

She also worries about the lack of guardrails this bill puts on abortion. There’s no stipulation in the bill for reasons a pregnant person can seek an abortion or how far along they can be when they get one.

“What this bill is saying is that it's OK to abort a child because there's a wrong sex, because they have a disability, because they're the wrong race. That's not life. To me, that's not thriving. And that's not advancing the values that I think Coloradans support,” Luck said.

She wants at least three serious changes to the bill: to take out references to abortion and let the rest of the bill run, to allow local communities to decide, and to put in a petition clause so that voters can contest the bill before it goes into effect.

Republicans also raise concerns about when life begins and whether this bill will affect current state laws for parents to be notified if their child seeks an abortion.

Froelich, however, insisted this bill will not affect the parental notification law and is legally sound.

“We really crafted the bill so that it was amendment-proof, so no amendments were needed. We heavily stakeholder that. Obviously, there's a huge gap between the two sides and so we can't concede something that's a belief of faith and put that into law,” she said. “We feel like we have a really tight legal argument in our bill.”

Despite that, Froelich said she will listen to what her colleagues across the aisle have to say to see if any of their proposals will work with the spirit of the bill.

After the bill passed a preliminary vote Saturday, members of both parties released statements.

House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, said the bill supports reproductive health care and is inching "closer to solidifying access to abortion."

"Reproductive health care is vital health care. Politicians, neighbors or complete strangers have no business controlling personal medical decisions – that should be between patients and their doctors. While our rights are under attack across the country, with the advancement of the Reproductive Health Equity Act, we’re closer to solidifying access to abortion and fundamental reproductive health care rights into Colorado law,” Rep. Esgar said in a statement.

Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown called HB-22-1279 the "most extreme abortion bill in the nation," and expressed pride in the Republicans' effort to stall the bill.

"I'm so proud of our Colorado Republicans who fought ALL night and set a record for the longest legislative debate in Colorado history to try and stop the most extreme abortion bill in the nation. This legislation would remove parental notification in Colorado law, allow partial-birth abortion, and protect infanticide. It's disgusting and should have been defeated. We are the pro-life party and freedom begins with the freedom to live. Equal rights are not equal until they extend to every human being. We will never stop working to protect the rights of the unborn," Brown said in a statement.

The bill is expected to pass the Senate.