Colorado has a long, proud history of protecting access to abortion and reproductive rights. We believe as part of our independent DNA that patients and doctors, not the government or politicians, should be making these decisions.
We were the first state to decriminalize abortion – in 1967, six years before Roe v. Wade. It was a bipartisan law sponsored by Rep. Dick Lamm and Sen. John Bermingham, signed by a Republican Governor, John Love.
And in 2022, as we face what could be the end of Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion in the case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, it is time again for Colorado to lead on abortion rights and our most sacred right to control our own bodies.
It’s almost certain the Supreme Court will substantially weaken or even overturn the right to abortion. The question will be whether Colorado has done right by its citizens and ensured those fundamental freedoms by putting them into law. We are at a crisis point and we should meet the moment with action.
We can do that with the Reproductive Health Equity Act, soon to be introduced by House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar and Rep. Meg Froelich in the House, and by Sen. Julie Gonzales in the Senate.
The Reproductive Health Equity Act will ensure that every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception; that every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right to choose to continue a pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion; and that a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of Colorado. This will head off some of the noxious attempts at the most pervasive attempts at cruel and punitive abortion bans know as “personhood,” that have been repeatedly introduced here.
Many people are surprised by the fact that despite Colorado’s reputation as a leader on abortion access and reproductive rights, there is nothing expressly protective of abortion rights in Colorado state law. The simple fact is until now we’ve relied on the Constitutional protection of Roe, backed by the federal courts.
It’s clear we may not be able to do that for much longer. Conservatives on the Supreme Court have let the unconstitutional Texas vigilante abortion ban remain in place for going on six months, effectively kicking the can down the road until the court potentially overturns Roe.
As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her strong dissent opinion on Jan. 20, the Texas “scheme employs technical entanglements specifically to smother the federal right to choose… This case is a disaster for the rule of law and a grave disservice to women in Texas, who have a right to control their own bodies. I will not stand by silently as a state continues to nullify this constitutional guarantee. I dissent.”
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, abortion would become illegal in about half the states in the US, including many bordering Colorado. In addition, many other states would be emboldened to attempt to ban abortion in their respective state legislatures.
Here in Colorado, there have been 44 failed attempts to ban or restrict abortion at the legislature since 2010, as well as four ballot measures since 2008, all of which were defeated by landslide margins.
Given those inevitable attacks and the fact the Supreme Court could act in a matter of a few months, the Reproductive Health Equity Act is the fastest and most efficient way to protect abortion rights and contraceptive access in Colorado. I don’t think we are prepared for the emotional impact of what will happen the day the Supreme Court issues its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.
But we should be prepared by having the Reproductive Health Equity Act in state law. I look forward to the General Assembly passing it and Gov. Polis signing it, just as a courageous Gov. Love did when he protected the rights of Colorado citizens in 1967.
Gail Schoettler, of Douglas County, was state treasurer from 1987-1995 and lieutenant governor from 1995-1999. She is a member of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
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