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Bill affirming abortion access in Colorado clears second hurdle after 24 hours of debate on House floor

Representatives began debating House Bill 1279 on Friday morning and finished at about 11 a.m. Saturday in what was likely among the longest debates in the Colorado legislature’s history

Lawmakers are seen on the Capitol’s House floor on Jan. 12, 2022 in Denver at the start of Colorado’s General Assembly’s 2022 session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)
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A bill affirming access to abortion and contraception in Colorado cleared its second hurdle Saturday morning after 24 hours of nearly continuous debate on the state House floor.

Representatives began debating House Bill 1279 on Friday morning and finished at about 11 a.m. Saturday. They took a short break Friday night before resuming the debate, which included personal stories and impassioned speeches by supporters and opponents. Republicans offered dozens of amendments to the bill, which were rejected.

The debate, extended by Republicans, is likely among the longest in the Colorado legislature’s history. Members of the House tweeted that they watched the sunrise on Saturday morning as lawmakers continued to discuss the bill.

House Bill 1279, after passing on a 37-20 vote, now advances to a final, recorded vote in the House before moving to the Senate. The measure is expected to steadily march through the Democratic-controlled legislature and onto Gov. Jared Polis’ desk. The governor has already said he will sign the bill into law. 

The legislation was introduced in response to questions about the future of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision protecting the right to an abortion without excessive government abortion restriction. The court could overturn the precedent in the coming months in a ruling in a case out of Mississippi, potentially opening the door for abortion restrictions in Colorado at the county or municipal level.

Colorado’s bill “affirms that every individual has a fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception,” said Rep. Meg Froelich, a Greenwood Village Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill. “Every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right to choose to continue pregnancy and give birth or have an abortion.”

State Rep. Meg Froelich, a Greenwood Village Democrat. (Handout)

Republicans, however, argued for hours that the legislation goes too far since it would effectively make abortion access unfettered. “That’s what this law is: unbridled abortion,” said Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, an Arapahoe County Republican.

Rep. Patrick Neville, a Castle Rock Republican and fierce abortion opponent, said the bill would “make California and New York blush.”

Colorado, which in 1967 became the first state to loosen its abortion laws, is among the states with the fewest abortion restrictions in the U.S. While abortion access wouldn’t be immediately affected in Colorado if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion rights advocates warn there could still be threats. 

Demonstrators gather to protest Senate Bill 8, the new Texas law banning abortion after six weeks into a pregnancy, on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at the Colorado Capitol. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

The concern among abortion rights groups is that conservative Colorado counties or municipalities could try to pass local measures banning or significantly limiting abortions. Without the protections in Roe v. Wade, those local measures may not be challengeable in court without the passage of affirmative abortion-access legislation at the Capitol.

But because House Bill 1279 changes only state law, Republicans would still be able to introduce bills and ballot measures seeking to limit abortion access. Only a constitutional amendment, which would require approval by 55% of voters, could more permanently settle the question.

Colorado voters have consistently rejected ballot measures seeking to restrict abortion access.

Abortion rights groups are considering whether to pursue a 2024 ballot measure enshrining abortion access in Colorado’s constitution.

MORE: Democrats’ effort to affirm abortion access in Colorado won’t stop Republicans from trying to limit the procedure

The debate in Colorado comes as the Texas Supreme Court on Friday dealt essentially a final blow to abortion clinics’ best hopes of stopping a law that bans abortions in Texas after roughly six weeks of pregnancy, The Associated Press reports. The ruling by the all-Republican court was not unexpected, according to the AP, but it means that the law will now stay in place for the foreseeable future.

Colorado Sun staff writer Shannon Najmabadi contributed to this report.


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