Protesters call on Gov. Polis to support abortion rights with executive orders
Governor says Congress should codify right to end a pregnancy
Almost 3,000 protesters on June 24, 2022, marched down North Broadway in downtown Denver, chanting, “What do we want, abortion rights, when do we want them, now,” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down.” A subsequent protest on July 2, 2022, arrived on the Governor’s Mansion, where participants demanded Gov. Jared Polis take executive action to support abortion rights. (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)
This April, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law that codified Coloradans’ longstanding right to get an abortion. After the Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, Polis spoke at a rally for abortion rights and called on Congress to pass a law protecting against state bans.
But some abortion-rights protesters in Colorado want the governor to do more.
Hundreds of people, in an event organized by Denver’s Party for Socialism and Liberation, marched to the Governor’s Mansion in Denver on Saturday and called on Polis to issue executive orders supporting abortion providers and protecting patients who travel to Colorado to get the procedure.
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“We recognize that Colorado does have strong protections on the books, but when you look at the reality of the situation and the incoming influx of people coming from out of state who are going to need to come to Colorado to access abortion services, we’re simply not ready,” PSL organizer Lillian House told Newsline. “And we’ve been dissatisfied with politicians in states like ours who claim that … they stand with women, that they’re for abortion rights, but using this time to pat themselves on the back instead of address the very serious concerns involved in our — I mean, we’re really in an emergency situation.”
By Denver PSL’s count, between 1,400 and 1,600 people participated in the march, according to House. The protesters’ demands were posted on the fence at the Governor’s Mansion and shared hundreds of times on social media.
They call on Polis to:
- Provide “emergency funding to abortion clinics to ensure that no person is turned away from Colorado for lack of capacity”
- Prohibit “any state entity from cooperating in the investigation or prosecution — civil or criminal — of abortion recipients or providers”
- “Bar the sharing of medical records with law enforcement”
Colorado’s Constitution currently prohibits public funding being used for abortions, making it unlikely that Polis could fulfill the first demand, though some abortion rights groups are working to put a measure on the ballot in 2024 that would repeal that constitutional provision.
“Governor Polis is pro-choice, pro-freedom and respects the privacy of Coloradans,” Polis spokesperson Conor Cahill said in an emailed statement when asked for comment on the protesters’ demands. “Gov. Polis signed a new Colorado law, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which codifies protections to ensure that abortion, contraception, medically assisted reproduction, and choice remain legal in Colorado.”
Cahill also pointed to a statement Polis issued following his meeting Friday with President Joe Biden and a group of other Democratic governors.
We need to protect our basic freedom in every corner of America or we will be nothing more than a third world country that treats women as second class citizens.
– Gov. Jared Polis
“Americans need Congress to pass laws to ensure that the right to end a pregnancy, same sex marriage, legal access to contraception, and interracial marriage are protected,” Polis said in the statement. “I urge the President to take whatever executive action he can to protect the reproductive rights of Americans. But ultimately, Americans should not be satisfied with a distorted federation of rights — we need to protect our basic freedom in every corner of America or we will be nothing more than a third world country that treats women as second class citizens.”
Cahill did not respond by this story’s publication time to a follow-up question asking whether Polis planned to sign any executive orders on abortion rights in the near future.
Lawmakers look at other states’ protections
State Rep. Meg Froelich — the Englewood Democrat who sponsored House Bill 22-1279, the state law that codified abortion rights — said she shared the protesters’ goals but is looking at other ways to accomplish them.
“I think the governor is aware of what executive actions he can and can’t take, and he’s been a good ally to us and we anticipate working with him in the future,” Froelich said. “We don’t know what that quite looks like.”
A follow-up bill that Froelich is working on with Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat and fellow sponsor of HB-1279, would address some of the protesters’ demands by protecting abortion providers and patients from out of state, Froelich said. Public funding for abortion care would have to wait until voters approve a planned ballot measure to repeal the constitutional ban in 2024, she added.
Froelich said she and Gonzales are looking to other states that have recently passed laws to safeguard people who perform abortions and the patients who get them.
The governors of Oregon, Washington and California are working on a multi-state plan to defend abortion access. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy signed laws July 1 to ban the extradition of abortion providers and patients to states that criminalize the procedure, and to bar state agencies from cooperating in interstate investigations aiming to punish someone from performing or receiving an abortion.
“What we’ve been seeing in the past really couple years, but certainly in this new wave (of abortion bans) set off by Texas with their Senate Bill 8 is really experimentations in punishments and cruelty — on who they’re going to hold accountable and how they’re going to do that,” Froelich said. “So we need to guard against all of that, a concerted effort to really punish people who can become pregnant.”
While House said she’s glad elected officials in Colorado support abortion rights, she believes the situation is too urgent to wait until next legislative session — or until after the next election. Neighboring states including Oklahoma and Texas have already banned abortion. Arizona’s Civil War-era abortion ban is now in effect. Utah banned abortions after 18 weeks. Wyoming’s ban will kick in by late July, if it is certified by the governor.
“We feel really positively that we live in a state where there is so much support for taking these kind of actions, but we also need to act with the urgency that this situation calls for, and it can’t just be business as usual,” House said. “We want to see that initiative, creativity, urgency, from our governor.”
Editor’s note: Gov. Polis issued an executive order Wednesday afternoon that prohibits Colorado agencies from sharing certain information to assist with civil or criminal abortion investigations in other states.
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