Commentary

Texas is the rule, not the exception: The constitutional right to abortion is under attack

Congress must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act

September 21, 2021 4:45 am

Abortion rights activists rally at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Texas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 8, which prohibits abortions in Texas after about the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy. (Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images)

Right now, the constitutional right to abortion care may as well not exist in Texas, the second-largest state in the nation. Texas passed the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation, effectively deputizing anti-abortion vigilantes to enforce it. It took effect Sept. 1. Both the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have shamefully so far declined to stop this unconstitutional law.

As a result, Texas patients are coming to Colorado for care. They shouldn’t need to. Abortion care is a constitutional right that should be accessible to every person in every state, no matter where you live and regardless of personal economic circumstances. A right is no longer a right if you can’t access it and can’t afford it. 

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And if you think Texas can’t happen here in Colorado, you’re wrong — which is why we need the Women’s Health Protection Act. WHPA would create a statutory right for health care providers to provide abortion care, and a corresponding right for their patients to receive that care, free from medically unnecessary restrictions that single out abortion and impede access. WHPA will have a vote in the U.S. House on Friday, and Reps. Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse, Ed Perlmutter and Jason Crow have all signed on as co-sponsors, as have Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet. 

WHPA is the first proactive bill on abortion rights being voted on in the House in 30 years, and it’s overdue. The attacks on abortion rights never stop, even in a state like ours. 

I started at Cobalt in 2013. Since then, Colorado has seen a constant deluge of attempts to restrict abortion access with bills at the General Assembly and four attempts to ban abortion on the ballot since 2008. These attempts have escalated in recent years as abortion opponents have seen the Supreme Court grow more and more hostile to the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade.

WHPA is the first proactive bill on abortion rights being voted on in the House in 30 years, and it’s overdue.

Since 2013, there have been 41 bills attempting to ban or restrict abortion at the Colorado General Assembly. They include everything from “personhood bills” making a fertilized egg a person under Colorado law to TRAP laws modeled on the Texas restrictions found unconstitutional in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Recent attempts have included the junk science notion of “abortion reversal,” which is so dangerous the one valid medical study on it had to be halted after three women went to the hospital with severe bleeding. 

We have defeated these bills and ballot measures in Colorado by landslide margins. But as states around us have enacted bans and restrictions, the pressure on Colorado as a haven state for abortion care has increased. 

Our Cobalt Abortion Fund has seen patients needing help from all over the country, and the need has escalated considerably since the Texas vigilante abortion ban. People hurt most by abortion restrictions are those already facing barriers to accessing health care and who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and economic crisis — particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities, people in domestic violence and at-risk situations, and those working to make ends meet. 

Abortion is a right, protected by the U.S. Constitution and recognized in international human rights law. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed — most recently in 2020 — that the Constitution’s guarantees of personal privacy and liberty protect a person’s right to end a pregnancy. And international human rights law recognizes and protects access to abortion as central to health, equality, and non-discrimination. 

Coloradans clearly agree. It is a fundamental part of our Colorado values — reinforced over and over by voters — that the right to access abortion should remain between patients and providers, not with politicians. The rights established in Roe should not be undermined by politics. 

We need the Women’s Health Protection Act to ensure that doesn’t happen. And we need to do better on ensuring better access to care here in Colorado for everyone.

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Karen Middleton
Karen Middleton

Karen Middleton is the president of Cobalt, a Denver-based advocacy organization that supports abortion access and reproductive rights.

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