Colorado Democrats introduce bill to enshrine abortion rights in statute

Sponsors cite Texas, other state bills and SCOTUS decision as reasons
Posted at 1:02 PM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 20:28:23-05

DENVER – Colorado Democrats introduced their bill this week that aims to codify in statute full access to reproductive health care in the face of new abortion restrictions and prohibitions in other states and a challenge to Roe v. Wade the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on this year.

Lawmakers introduced HB22-1279, called the Reproductive Health Equity Act, on Thursday, and sponsors Reps. Meg Froelich and Daneya Esgar, and Sen. Julie Gonzales, held a news conference to discuss the measure Friday.

The sponsors said they have had the measure ready since the first day of this year’s legislative session. It was something they started working on after Senate Bill 8 passed in Texas and took effect last September, a law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser was one of two dozen attorneys who filed an amicus brief in support of a U.S. Department of Justice challenge to the Texas law, and at the beginning of October, hundreds of Coloradans held a rally outside the Capitol in Denver calling for reproductive freedom.

Bill sponsors said there have been numerous cases of people coming to Colorado from Texas and other places where abortions are restricted to seek abortions and other reproductive health care.

Gonzales said she and other lawmakers heard from many constituents about what Colorado would do to enshrine reproductive rights access, and they decided to put together what become House Bill 1279.

Gonzales noted that Coloradans have on five occasions over the past 14 years defeated ballot measures that would have restricted abortion and other reproductive health access, and that lawmakers have introduced 41 pieces of legislation with similar aims prior to this year as well as three that were defeated earlier this session.

“That is a constant hum in the background,” she said. “We’re excited about the way we are providing affirmative, proactive measures to protect access to the full range of reproductive health care here in our state.”

The bill applies to anyone who is or may become pregnant, and purposefully uses inclusive language, the sponsors said.

“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.

It calls people’s access to contraception a “fundamental right” that cannot be infringed upon and says state and local public entities are prohibited from interfering a person’s right to continue a pregnancy, give birth, or have an abortion.

The sponsors noted in the news conference and in the bill’s language that Colorado’s reproductive rights push began before Roe v. Wade was decided, decriminalizing abortion care in 1967 six years before the Supreme Court decision.

“Colorado has long been a leader in ensuring access to reproductive health care. What we’re seeing now is there are no affirmations in statute,” Gonzales said. “In a world in which Roe v. Wade falls, we want to make it clear that regardless of what happens at the Supreme Court, access here is protected.”

The high court heard arguments in December regarding a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks.

The fiscal note for the bill prepared by Legislative Council Services says if Medicaid does not cover contraceptives, abortions or family planning, it will not constitute denying, restricting or discriminating against those services, which the sponsors said was in line with law.

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.

“We just feel like we need that time and momentum to garner up as much power as we can to get it through,” Esgar said.

The sponsors they were confident HB22-1279 would pass and be signed by the governor. Fifty-eight of the 63 Democrats in the General Assembly signed on to the bill as sponsors upon introduction.

The bill’s first committee hearing is set for next Wednesday, March 9, at 1:30 p.m. in the House Health and Insurance Committee.