The Colorado Capitol on May 9, 2022. (Pema Baldwin for Colorado Newsline)
Three Republican anti-abortion bills died at the Colorado Legislature during a committee hearing Friday. One of the bills would have abolished abortion altogether.
Testimony during a hearing before the House Health & Insurance Committee began with Rep. Stephanie Luck, a Penrose Republican and the sole sponsor of House Bill 23-1097, which would require a health care provider who performs an abortion on a fetus 20 weeks gestational age or older to administer a painkiller to the fetus prior to an abortion, with exceptions if the pregnant person is allergic to anesthetics.
Luck gave an emotional statement to the committee, arguing that if Colorado is to continue allowing abortions, “the very least we can do is make it humane.”
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Once debate opened on the bill, dozens of witnesses, both part of anti-abortion and reproductive-rights organizations, stated they strongly opposed the bill. Jack Teter, policy director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the bill is “an affront to our patients and our providers.”
“This is just another attempt by anti-abortion activists to erect barriers between providers and patients,” he said.
Rebecca Cohen, an OB-GYN and abortion provider, highlighted that before 25 weeks, the gestation of the fetus can’t feel pain, which is supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“The bill’s sponsor is not a doctor, that is important to keep in mind,” Cohen said, in reference to Luck.
Voting 'yes' on this bill is the equivalent of saying 'yes' to beating a child to death with a baseball bat as long as you give them pain medicine beforehand.
– Maxine Enyart, mother of three
Various members of anti-abortion groups like Colorado Right to Life and End Abortion Now were also against the bill, using colorful metaphors to argue that, whether the fetus can feel the pain, the bill would still allow abortion to be administered, and abortion should be banned completely.
“Voting ‘yes’ on this bill is the equivalent of saying ‘yes’ to beating a child to death with a baseball bat as long as you give them pain medicine beforehand,” said Maxine Enyart, a mother of three children. “The only bill that you can pass in terms of abortion is the complete abolition of all abortions.”
After hearing various other groups from both perspectives, Rep. Matt Soper, a Delta Republican, was the only committee member to ask questions. He sought clarification from one practicing neonatologist on what the definition of pain was and what the medical consensus of pain was.
The bill failed the committee by a vote of 8-3, with all three Republicans voting ‘yes.’
Democrats hold large majorities in the state House and Senate , and, as with Luck, Bottoms knew his bill had virtually no chance of passing the committee — he said as much in his testimony for the bill.
“What’s the potential of this bill passing? None. I know that,” he said. “But they’re still babies. But you can still vote for the darkness day after day, and I will stand against the darkness, against, the death, against the murder of our children.”
Legislation that attempts to limit abortion access or ban it completely has little chance of making it past a committee vote.. The Health & Insurance committee is made up of eight Democrats and three Republicans, and even if it did make it to the House floor, Democrats hold a supermajority and could vote it down with ease. Gov. Jared Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act in April of last year, guaranteeing access to reproductive care before and after pregnancy while also banning local governments from imposing their own restrictions.
Yet where Democrats in the state saw the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer in the Dobbs v. Jackson case as an opportunity to protect pregnant people in Colorado, Republican representatives see the Dobbs decision as an opportunity to impose abortion restrictions.
“We have it within our power now in a way that we’ve never had in this building to actually change (Roe),” said Luck. “We now actually can have more than an academic exercise into that particular (case).”
Bills similar to Bottoms’ abortion ban have been introduced into the state Legislature 13 times, and ballot issues seeking to restrict or limit access to abortion have been put up for a vote in state elections four times since 2008 and lost. The latest, Proposition 115, which was introduced in 2020 and would have banned abortion after 22 weeks, lost 59% to 41%.
“Coloradoans have made their support for abortion access known repeatedly and consistently. I respectfully ask for a ‘no’ vote,” said Phillip Schimmel, a policy associate for abortion advocacy group Cobalt, in witness testimony.
After more witness testimony and before the committee vote, Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat, voiced his strong opposition to the bills, citing the lack of exceptions should the life of the mother be at risk and the personal experience his wife had last year with an ectopic pregnancy.
“There was a morning where I found my wife crouched over a toilet feeling this agonizing pain,” he said. “We found she had a pint of blood in her abdomen. The point is this: the only person who is in any sort of position to make this incredibly difficult decision is the pregnant person themself … That’s why I will continue to vote ‘no’ on policies like this one.”
Both of Bottoms’ bills failed in committee, with an 8-3 vote along party lines.
While the failure of the three bills was a win for Democrats, representatives who are abortion were adamant they won’t stop their efforts.
“We are post-Roe,” said Luck. “This is now on each one of us.”
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