DENVER — After the kind of lengthy emotional debate always triggered by policy proposals affecting abortion rights, Senate Democrats gave a first go-ahead to a proactive bill that seeks to protect women’s reproductive health decisions from future challenges.
The Reproductive Health Freedom Act, which prohibits state or local government entities from enacting any policy that denies or interferes with an individual’s reproductive health care decisions, or an individual’s access to current evidence-based, scientific information on the topic, cleared the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 4-3 vote Thursday.
The sponsor, Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, called the measure “an effort to keep politics and politicians away from Coloradans’ health care and reproductive decisions.
“The bill simply protects personal freedom and women’s and families’ rights to determine what’s appropriate according to their own value system,” he said.
Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land and, in Colorado, Democrats currently control both branches of the state legislature and the governor’s office.
But the measure seeks to protect abortion rights into the future from challenges that have been successful in limiting abortions in other states, where Republican-controlled legislatures have approved laws — forced ultrasound requirements, mandatory waiting periods and difficult-to-meet clinic regulations — that have become serious barriers to abortion services.
“While states like Texas are actively closing clinics in rural areas, today’s vote is a commitment to help ensure women throughout Colorado will have access to reproductive health care without government interference,” said Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Blackhawk, another sponsor of the proposal.
A personhood movement, aiming to amend the constitution to define a fertilized egg as a person, thereby making abortion a crime, has twice failed on the statewide ballot, rejected by voters by a margin of roughly three-to-one.
Recently, Republican politicians who had supported personhood wholeheartedly have reversed course now that they’re running, in the case of U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, for statewide office or, in the case of U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, for a re-drawn House district seat that changed from a safe GOP seat to a pure toss-up.
But no Republicans voted in favor of the proposal on Thursday, even though women’s health advocates argue it reflects “mainstream” Colorado values.
“We appreciate the fact that legislators are implementing mainstream Colorado values, sound health care policy, and reflecting the will of Colorado voters,” said Karen Middleton, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado.
“Colorado voters have said over and over that they believe women have the right to make their own health care decisions. We need to protect that right and ensure government doesn’t get in between women and their doctors.”
It’s no surprise Democrats are pushing the proposal this year ahead of a big election, having succeeded in winning support from women swing voters by focusing attention on women’s health issues over the past several election cycles.