Colorado reproductive rights bill passes Senate, heads to governor's desk

Bill would enshrine reproductive rights in state statute
Colorado Senate defeats bill on abortion waiting periods
Posted at 1:45 PM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 14:12:16-04

DENVER – Colorado Democrats sent their reproductive rights and abortion access bill to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis after it passed its third reading in the Senate in a party-line 20-15 vote.

HB22-1279, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, passed after another 2 ½ hour hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, which followed another 12-hour hearing in the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill will codify full access to reproductive health care in Colorado into statute. It applies to anyone who may become pregnant, calls people’s access to contraception a “fundamental right” and says state and local public entities are prohibited from interfering with a person’s right to continue a pregnancy, give birth, or have an abortion.

Sponsors said when they introduced the bill earlier this month that it was written with the possibility that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade in a decision this summer. The high court heard arguments in December regarding a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks.

Sponsors also pointed to Texas’ Senate Bill 8 took effect last September, which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Colorado decriminalized abortion care in 1967 six years prior to the Roe v. Wade decision.

Ahead of the bill’s final passage Wednesday, there were a couple more hours of debate on top of the more than 24 hours that have already been held in floor and committee sessions.

Democratic female senators implored the chamber to pass the bill to enshrine reproductive rights and to keep politicians out of the decisions women make regarding their own bodies.

Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, who recently had a son, said she was voting for the bill in part due to the decisions being made by other state legislators and governors, which she said were competing with each other to pass more extreme laws that infringe on women.

"The race to the bottom is terrifying and causes us to take action,” she said. “…Today, Colorado takes a stand. With this bill, we say not here, not ever. We aren’t going to stand by and simply wait to defeat attempts to take away our rights. We’re going to take a stand now and protect the women and families across the state we were sent here to protect.”

The Democrats noted that there are likely to be 26 states that will ban abortion should the high court overturn Roe v. Wade, and that Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada would likely be the only states in the Rocky Mountain region where people might have access to abortion care.

MacKenzie Scott donated $20 million to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains on Wednesday, and the organization called it a “remarkable” donation in a “critical moment.”

Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said after all the discussion, it comes to one primary thing for her: “Women have a moral right to decide what to do with their bodies,” she said. “…[This bill] is for every woman to have the option and choice to have a say about what they want to do with their bodies. A woman’s body should never be up for debate.”

Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, and Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, were among the Republicans who pointed to their faith and personal beliefs and convictions as reasons why they were voting against the bill. Holbert said it was his principled position that he held that forced him not to support the measure.

“Having a principled decision is not about winning or losing. It’s not about caving to pressure to change. It’s about holding positions regardless of pressure or the outcome,” Holbert said.

Other Republicans said they were concerned about people who might decide late in their pregnancies to terminate them, even though those comprise a small percentage of abortions.

“I believe every child has an inherent right to life and dignity. A baby in his mother’s arms should be just as valued as when that baby was in his mother’s uterus,” said Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Weld County.

Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, claimed that the measure would mean Colorado was choosing “to provide no protection for nascent human life.”

But Fields said Republicans’ concerns about when a fetus becomes a person were missing the point of what happens to children born into homes not prepared for a child.

“It seems like we get really bored and distracted when it comes to thinking about the child. The child that is delivered after a forced birth. What about that child? Is the church going to provide for that newborn? Is the scripture going to feed that newborn? Where is the focus and the attention on that child?” she asked the chamber.

“Time’s up. I’m the only one who has a say over my body. Not the state. Not the county. Not the politician. No bill. I get to make the decision. I own my own destiny as to what relates to when I want to grow my family,” Fields said. “It truly is time for government to get out of this business of trying to tell women what to do when it comes to a woman’s reproductive rights.”

Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, one of the bill’s prime sponsors, was the final senator to speak before the vote, and said it was time to move on from the nearly four-dozen measures that have been introduced at the Capitol since 2010 to limit or abolish abortion access – calling them “extremist rhetoric, tired, old, racist tropes.”

“It’s time for Colorado to lead again, to get government out of this most fundamental of decisions, so whatever your personal belief, the decisions regarding your health care and your body are respected,” she said.

Sponsors said earlier this month they will also prepare a statewide constitutional amendment ballot measure for 2024 to enshrine reproductive rights in the constitution as well. Gov. Polis is expected to sign the bill that passed Wednesday.

"Yes he will sign it," said Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for the governor. "Governor Polis is for women’s freedom to make their own healthcare decisions and he is looking forward to signing this bill and ensuring Coloradans never have to worry about government taking away their rights regardless of whatever could happen at the Supreme Court.”