Commentary

Colorado has a proud pro-choice history

The state passed the nation’s first abortion legalization bill

October 30, 2020 12:54 pm

Pro-choice activists with the National Organization For Women hold a vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court on January 23, 2012, in Washington, D.C. The vigil was held to mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

By Dottie Lamm

I was there at the beginning.

It was the year 1967 when Democratic state Rep. Dick Lamm, along with a Republican state senator, the late John Bermingham, introduced the nation’s first abortion legalization bill.

This bill, which allowed a woman to access an abortion, after her procedure was approved by two doctors, was passed by a majority Republican legislature and signed into law by a Republican governor, the late John Love.

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As the wife of Rep. Lamm, pregnant with our much-desired first child, I had no personal interest in this bill becoming law.

For us, a civil rights attorney and a social worker, it was a woman’s health and rights issue, plain and simple.

In no way, did Lamm and Bermingham accomplish this feat on their own. By the time the bill was introduced, a swarm of citizen lobbyists, mostly women (some of whom had experienced life-threatening illegal, unsafe abortions), clergy and doctors approached the legislature, sharing their stories and their expertise.

Its success, in the spring of 1967, caused a national media sensation. And soon after, other states as diverse as New York, South Carolina, California and Texas, initiated their own bills to legalize abortion.

Then in 1973 came the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling from the United States Supreme Court. Decided on the basis of the constitutional right to privacy, this ruling gave the freedom to any woman in the United States, to decide along with her doctor, whether or not to have an abortion.

However, there were some that did not rejoice in this new reproductive freedom. Immediately a fervent movement by anti-abortionists began, which — in too many states to list here — managed to get their state legislatures to impose technical barriers to abortion access.

Colorado, in its proud tradition of supporting reproductive health care, has been able to defeat such legislative attempts. We have also defeated, by overwhelming margins, three citizen-initiated ballot measures which would have given a fetus “personhood” status from the moment of conception.

Of course, the aim of those initiatives was to ban abortion outright in our state with no exceptions.

Which brings me to Proposition 115. The measure would ban any abortion later in pregnancy. The only exception would be if carrying the fetus to term would immediately endanger the life of the pregnant woman.

No exception for a non-life threatening, but debilitating, mental or physical illness of the mother.

No exception for a fetal diagnosis serious enough to make life outside the womb impossible.

Take the story of Leah Huff, a pregnant Iowa woman, reported in the Denver Post Perspective section on Oct. 4: Huff, a woman who desperately wanted to become a mother, was told at 24 weeks pregnancy that, “her baby had multiple heart defects, a skull bone abnormality, and a rare congenital spine abnormality,” all incompatible with life outside the womb. In addition, Huff had a medical condition of her own, which in carrying this pregnancy to term might cause her to go blind.

Though in Iowa, the law allows abortion after 22 weeks in “cases of life or severely compromised physical health,” not one doctor was willing to perform an abortion on Huff.

“Sick-hearted and terrified,” Huff flew to Colorado, where her needed abortion was performed. In addition, “I was treated with compassion and dignity — a stark contrast from the doctors in Iowa.

“Proposition 115 will force women to make the most personal medical decisions on an arbitrary timeline, with no consideration for their individual circumstances.” says Huff.

In conclusion she asks voters to carry her story with them, “reach within their own hearts,” and be guided by their own moral compass.

Dottie Lamm is a former first lady of Colorado.

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