How to protect abortion rights in Colorado

Demand that constitutionally-protected liberties be preserved

May 5, 2022 12:37 pm

Protestors gathered at the Colorado Capitol on May 3, 2022, in support of legal abortions. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

Abortion rights are protected in Colorado, but their stability is uncertain, and there is much that should be done to secure them.

Colorado in 1967 was the first state in the country to loosen its abortion laws. It bolstered its legacy of reproductive justice this year when it codified abortion as a fundamental right in state law. Democrats in the Legislature pursued that law, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, in response to ascendent anti-abortion forces in the country, including brazenly restrictive abortion laws in Texas and Mississippi and the expectation that the U.S. Supreme Court, in deciding a challenge to the Mississippi law, would erode or overturn the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which guarantees a constitutional right to get an abortion.

Now we know the court is planning not only to completely overturn Roe and a related case from 1992 that affirmed Roe, but doing so in strident anti-abortion language, which suggests dire implications for other unenumerated rights, particularly related to same-sex marriage. The court’s intent became evident on Monday when Politico published a leaked draft ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito.


The final ruling, which is likely to resemble the leaked version, is a threat to abortion rights in Colorado, despite current protections. It boosts the momentum of anti-abortion activism in the state, where attempts to restrict abortion are robust and routine, and the head of the Colorado Republican Party has been trying to ban abortion since before she was old enough to drink. And it could to lead to a federal abortion ban, which would supersede state protections.

Do you believe in bodily autonomy? Do you reject any claim from a lawmaker, judge or government official that a person can be forced to carry a pregnancy to term? Do you demand that constitutionally-protected liberties be preserved?

Here’s what you can do.

Say the word “abortion.” Too many elected officials and advocates avoid using the term. After the leak of Alito’s opinion, Sen. Michael Bennet issued a statement in support of abortion rights, but he only alluded to abortion with substitute words like “fundamental constitutional right” and “health care choices.” Such avoidance contributes to stigmatization of abortion and contributes to undue discomfort around the topic.

Say the word 'abortion.' Too many elected officials and advocates avoid using the term.

An immediate task is to support people who work in the reproductive justice space, who have had an abortion, or who plan to get an abortion.

“The words Alito used were used to cause harm,” said Aurea Bolaños Perea, communications and policy manager for the advocacy group Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, or COLOR.

The draft ruling’s rhetorical character, with references to an “unborn human being” and “the critical moral question posed by abortion,” amounts to a cruel indictment of abortion-rights supporters. But Bolaños Perea encourages them, as every abortion-rights proponent should, to remain confident in their convictions. 

“The decisions that you made or want to make are the right decisions,” she said. “This is your body, your life, your future.” 

The Reproductive Health Equity Act for the first time put abortion rights in Colorado statutes, but a conservative majority in the Legislature could eliminate the law. That’s why Coloradans should pay attention to a fledgling effort to put a state constitutional amendment securing abortion rights on the 2024 ballot. A constitutional amendment would be far harder to reverse, and it would signal to abortion opponents in Colorado and beyond that residents in the state take their fundamental rights seriously. Advocates were planning such a ballot measure even before the Alito leak. Now the effort is urgent.

But a federal law would override a state law. Conservative members of Congress have already attempted to enact national abortion restrictions. An example is the Life at Conception Act, which was sponsored in the U.S. House by all three Republican members of Congress from Colorado. Coloradans should send a message to these and other lawmakers that their stance on abortion is not aligned with the will of the people.

However, there is the possibility, noted The Washington Post, that such a law “could ignite liberal activists who would be energized to push back against the prospect of abortion being banned not just in red-state America but Democratic bastions from California to New York.”

That’s the kind of response that Coloradans should join. They should demand that candidates for office talk frankly and precisely about what they’ll do to protect abortion rights. Declaring support for Roe and reproductive justice is not enough. Will candidates support a national abortion-rights law? Will they get rid of the filibuster in the Senate to ensure passage of such a law? Where do they stand on expanding the Supreme Court, the current composition of which is disastrously minoritarian (Jessica Winter in the New Yorker notes that “four of the five justices voting to end (Roe) were appointed by men who won the presidency despite losing the popular vote, that three of them were appointed by a man who was twice impeached, and that one was appointed to an essentially stolen seat”)?

Colorado is home to several organizations that have long worked to protect abortion rights and ensure access to reproductive care, and they benefit from supporter contributions such as volunteer work and donations. The organizations include COLOR, Cobalt and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

The nation is undergoing a monumental shift. A fundamental right that was recognized by the highest court in the land for almost half a century is about to vanish. Most Americans, and certainly most Coloradans, say Roe should be upheld. They do not have to remain idle as a conservative minority tries to take the country backward.


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