The rollback of abortion rights by the conservative U.S. Supreme Court opens a dark chapter for reproductive rights. While we know that the mere legality of abortion never equaled access for communities of color, for a half century, Roe v. Wade served as a bulwark against state legislatures undermining a woman’s autonomy to make medical decisions for themselves.
The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization whistled past decades of established case law and reaffirmations of Roe. The door is now open for state legislatures to throw up major barriers to abortion access. Some will go so far as to ban the procedure entirely, even in cases of rape, incest, and where medial issues threaten women’s lives. Others will go further and ban or limit access to birth control.
Some state legislatures are even going as far as trying to bar pregnant people from traveling out of state for an abortion, a clear violation of the constitutionally protected right of Americans to travel freely between the states. The U.S. House passed a bill, the Freedom to Travel Act, that would bar states from obliterating yet another fundamental freedom. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate but was stalled by Senate Republicans.
In Colorado, thanks to the new Reproductive Health Equity Act, abortion remains legal and safe. With this law in place, the Dobbs decision has no control over Colorado individuals and their health care choices. And people from neighboring states — states primed to outlaw abortion in most or all cases — can find safe harbor in Colorado to receive the health care they need.
But make no mistake, threats to abortion access in Colorado are far from over. Those who press on to limit a pregnant person’s choice will target Colorado’s new law. Why? Because the new law prevents rogue cities and counties from enacting their own local abortion restrictions.
For good reason. Pregnant individuals should have equal access to abortion throughout Colorado. Imagine a patchwork of local ordinances, in which some counties prohibit abortion, some limit it, and some permit it. That’s outright inequitable and unjust.
Yet some Colorado cities and counties will certainly attempt to flout the Reproductive Health Equity Act by setting up their own local abortion restrictions. When that happens (and it will), it will be up to Colorado’s attorney general to defend the law and ensure local abortion restrictions are ruled null and void.
A core duty of Colorado’s attorney general is to defend our state laws in court. We already know that our current attorney general, Phil Weiser, stands ready to defend the Reproductive Health Equity Act in court on behalf of the state. He supported the law from the moment of its introduction under the Capitol Dome. And he pledged repeatedly to go to court to defend the law from any lawsuit to weaken or overturn it. He said, point blank, that he will meet in court any Colorado locality enacting its own abortion ban.
We know where Weiser stands and will defend the Reproductive Health Equity Act. But, his opponent running for attorney general, Republican John Kellner, has been completely silent on abortion access. He won’t say whether as attorney general he would defend the new law or disregard it, allowing local governments to go unchecked if they enact abortion restrictions.
Should he be our next attorney general, Kellner will be the sole decision maker in whether the State defends the Reproductive Health Equity Act or lets local governments defy state law. With the Dobbs decision, this is no abstract possibility.
With Roe v. Wade gone, it’s imperative that we know where all candidates for office stand on reproductive rights. But it’s especially critical that we know where candidates for Colorado attorney general stand, since that person could be the sole decision-maker on whether the state stands against local ordinances curbing abortion rights.
Before ballots go out this fall, Kellner owes all Colorado voters answers on where he stands and what he would do on reproductive rights and the Reproductive Health Equity Act. That means:
- Will Kellner, as attorney general, go to court to defend the act against lawsuits to overturn it, and will he challenge local abortion restrictions as against state law?
- Will Kellner refuse to join lawsuits from other states’ Republican attorneys general seeking to bar women from traveling to Colorado for reproductive services?
- Will Kellner go to court to stop other states such as Texas from obtaining personal information about women who travel to Colorado for an abortion in an effort to use that information to bring lawsuits (or criminal charges) in Texas against those women?
These questions don’t describe possibilities or abstractions. These are imminent lawsuits we should expect, and they are questions Colorado’s attorney general will decide.
With Roe gone, Colorado law serves as the only defense for a person’s fundamental right to obtain an abortion. Coloradans deserve to know where both candidates for attorney general stand on a position so critical to women’s health and lives.
Dani Newsum, of Centennial, is director of strategic partnerships for Cobalt. Christina Soliz, of Denver, is political director for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights Action Fund.
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