Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed into law a bill affirming access to abortion and contraception in Colorado as Democrats brace for the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn the Roe v. Wade precedent in the coming weeks.
“No matter what the Supreme Court does in the future, people in Colorado will be able to choose when and if they have children,” Polis said at a bill signing ceremony at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver. “We want to make sure that our state is a place where everyone can live and work and thrive and raise a family on their own terms.”
The legislature approved House Bill 1279 last month along party lines, with Republicans spending hours arguing against the measure’s passage. The bill was debated in the House for 24 consecutive hours in what was one of the longest debates in the legislature’s history.
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The five-page bill says a government entity in Colorado may not “deny, restrict, interfere with or discriminate against an individual’s fundamental right to use or refuse contraception or to continue a pregancy and give birth or to have an abortion.”
The measure also states that “a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of the state.”
Democrats introduced the legislation 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 restriction. The court could overturn the precedent as soon as June 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, which in 1967 became the first state to loosen its abortion laws, is among the states with the fewest abortion restrictions.
Abortion access wouldn’t be immediately affected in Colorado if Roe v. Wade is overturned, but abortion rights advocates warn there could still be threats.
The concern among abortion rights groups is that conservative Colorado counties or municipalities could try to pass local measures banning or significantly limiting access to abortion procedures or medication. Without the protections in Roe v. Wade and House Bill 1279, it may be impossible to challenge those local measures in court.
But because House Bill 1279 changes only state statute, not the state constitution, Republicans could still 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 ballot measure in 2024 enshrining abortion access in Colorado’s constitution.