DENVER – Democrats on a House committee advanced a bill that will enshrine abortion rights in Colorado statute around 3:45 a.m. after hours of public testimony on the measure.
The House Health and Insurance Committee voted 7-4, with four Republicans voting against the bill, to advance HB22-1279, called the Reproductive Health Equity Act, on to the full House after about 14 hours of testimony.
“Tonight, we’re one step closer to enshrining access to abortion in Colorado law,” said House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, one of the sponsors of the measure. “…With the Reproductive Health Equity Act, we’re taking action now to protect the fundamental right to reproductive health care, regardless of what happens at the federal level.”
More than 300 people signed up to speak at the committee hearing Wednesday, and people talked long into the night both in favor and against the measure.
“This bill is all about ensuring access and that's it, period, the end,” said Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Arapahoe, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “What we appreciate about this is that it sets the absolute framework and establishes that this is what we want in Colorado.”
“We need this bill to protect that access because we do not know what's going to happen in June... but it doesn’t look very good,” said a woman, noting the Supreme Court’s upcoming review of a challenge to Roe vs. Wade.
People against the bill, as they have with similar reproductive rights measures that have gone through the General Assembly over the past few years, largely hinged their testimony on their religion or spirituality – saying that fetuses should have the same rights as anyone else.
The Denver Post’s Saja Hindi attended the whole meeting and reported on the testimony of heath care professionals with respect to the bill, including one OBGYN who talked about a patient from Texas who had to fly to Denver to have a life-saving abortion after Texas passed its new anti-abortion law last year.
The four Republican House members who voted against advancing the measure were Reps. Mark Baisley, Mary Bradfield, Stephanie Luck and Patrick Neville.
When the bill’s Democratic sponsors introduced the measure last week, they said they wanted to enshrine abortion and other reproductive rights in statute after Senate Bill 8 passed in Texas and took effect last September, a law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on a challenge to Roe v. Wade this year.
“The bill declares that every individual has a fundamental right to use or refuse contraception; every pregnant individual has a fundamental right to continue the pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion; and a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of the state,” the bill states.
Most of the General Assembly Democrats signed on as cosponsors of the bill when it was introduced. The sponsors said they will prepare a statewide constitutional amendment ballot measure for 2024 to change the constitution to enshrine reproductive rights there as well.
Josh Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Denver, told Denver7 this week the bill is mostly a proactive response to the expected Supreme Court ruling.
“Very little will explicitly change with the passage of a law like this. It's just affirming that a right exists," Wilson said. "I guess what it does do is it tries to stave off local and state challenges in the future."
Denver's Meghan Lopez and CB Cotton contributed to this report.