Lawmakers debate birth control, lament “War on Women”
DENVER — Just as the so-called “War on Women” was fading from the nation’s headlines, Colorado lawmakers brought the battle over reproductive rights back to the floor of the state Senate Friday.
Lawmakers spoke passionately for and against Senate Memorial 3, a GOP-sponsored measure to memorialize Congress to enact the so-called “Blunt Amendment”, an effort to vastly expand conscience exemptions to the Obama administration’s new birth control coverage rule.
After three hours of debate, the Senate’s Democratic majority ensured that the measure died by a vote of 20-15 that went right down party lines.
The “Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act” was sponsored by several GOP senators, all but one of them men; and it was the one woman sponsor, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who led the fight on the floor, noting that she is pro-choice and that she voted this week in favor of legislation to recognize same-sex civil unions.
“I appreciate how women feel about this but this is about religious freedom,” Roberts said, venting about the tenor of the debate that, in her view, has been “twisted” into a partisan fight.
“The War on Women phrase, where did that come from?” Roberts asked, noting that the phrase was first used by President Obama’s DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “To me, that is clearly a partisan, political move, and quite unfortunate.
“This issue is important in accommodating religious liberty in health care. Government has moved into the health care industry. And the question now is how to do we continue to recognize the freedom of religion?”
Roberts also noted that the 12 Republican men in the chamber were “super-glued to their seats”, admitting that the party had decided to let only its women speak on the memorial.
Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, noted that she’s pro-choice and “conflicted” about the memorial but planned to vote yes on it.
Democratic women, however, were vocal about their opposition to the memorial.
“Your rights to religious freedom shouldn’t give you a right to subtract from mine,” said Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora.
Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, said that the debate “saddens me as a legislator because I know our bodies are being used as political pawns.”
Giron, a Catholic, also expressed disappointment in the Church for “taking aim” at women.
“Religious freedom is being used as a cover to promote a political agenda,” Giron said.
Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, took a different tack and argued that the memorial would be difficult for businesses to implement, before a pivot to the personal.
“The problem for the businesses is this just opens up all kinds of liability disclosure issues,” Newell said, noting that one of her two daughters was listening to Friday’s debate inside the Senate chamber. “She wants to know what we’re doing in the state of Colorado to protect her freedoms.
“Right to privacy goes out the window with this bill because now you have to disclose. And it puts my daughter’s future boss right in the middle of her private life. They’ll have to ask, Do you use birth control? Are you having sex?
“I want my daughters to have access to proven methods of preventing pregnancy. I want my daughters to have the ability to be healthy and free.”