Bill to protect abortion rights in Colorado — whatever happens to Roe v. Wade — gets first hearing next week

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An abortion rights rally on the Capitol steps Wednesday, December 1, 2021, as the U.S. Supreme Court hears a Mississippi case seeking the overturn of Roe vs. Wade.

Democrats in the state legislature introduced a bill Thursday to ensure abortion stays legal and unrestricted in Colorado, should the U.S. Supreme Court reverse itself on Roe v. Wade.

Work on the bill began in earnest last summer, after the passage of Texas’ six-week abortion ban. Colorado lawmakers picked up further steam toward the end of the year after the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could end up rewriting the rules on abortion rights.

“Right now in Colorado, we are silent on these rights,” said House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, who is one of the bill’s lead sponsors. “This bill puts into statutes that these are actual, fundamental rights for all Coloradans.”

The Reproductive Health Equity Act — which nearly every Democrat in the legislature has signed on to — doesn’t just cover abortion, but also proclaims that the state and local governments and other public entities can not do anything to limit a person’s access to contraception or any other form of reproductive health care. It states that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of this state.”

Colorado currently has some of the broadest access to abortion in the nation; it’s one of only a handful of states that doesn’t set a gestational limit on the procedure. A ballot measure to ban abortion after 21 weeks was defeated by a nearly 20-point margin in 2020, becoming the latest in a string of anti-abortion ballot measures voters have rejected in the past decade.

Because laws can be repealed and re-written, bill sponsors said supporters are also working to put a constitutional abortion rights amendment on the ballot in 2024.

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

Groups opposed to abortion are marshalling their side to oppose the new bill.

On Friday, the Centennial Institute, which is associated with Colorado Christian University, urged opponents to email their lawmakers and attend the bill’s first hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday, March 9.

“This radical bill allows for no restrictions, including parental notification, and specifically bans the state of Colorado from attributing any rights to preborn children,” said Jeff Hunt, director of the Centennial Institute in a statement in which he called the proposal ‘appalling.’

The introduction of this new bill marks a shift in the abortion debate at the legislature this year. Last week, a Democratic-controlled House committee heard two Republican bills that would have outlawed abortion at any point in pregnancy, as well as a measure to require abortion providers to gather and report significant information about their patients.

“Isn’t our obligation as legislators to protect life, to do no harm?” state Rep. Patrick Neville asked the committee as he introduced his bill. “Don’t we have an obligation, with all we know, to err on the side of caution? To err on the side of life?”

All three bills failed on party-line votes in the committee.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the response from the Centennial Institute.