House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat, is pictured on the House floor March 11, 2022. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
The Colorado House of Representatives voted Monday to approve a bill that would codify reproductive rights, including abortion, into state law.
House Bill 22-1279, titled the “Reproductive Health Equity Act,” would affirmatively state that people in Colorado have the right to have an abortion or to continue a pregnancy, as well as the right to use or refuse contraceptive care. It would also declare that a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have personhood rights under state law. Finally, HB-1279 would explicitly prohibit state and local governments from denying, restricting, interfering with, or discriminating against someone’s reproductive rights.
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The bill’s sponsors, all Democrats, include House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, state Rep. Meg Froelich of Englewood and Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver. The House voted 40-24 to pass HB-1279 along party lines with one Democrat, Rep. Iman Jodeh of Aurora, excused.
Monday’s recorded vote came after a historic 24-hour debate in the House on Friday and Saturday, after which the majority of House representatives voted to advance HB-1279 on an initial voice vote. Deep partisan divisions, many of them linked to differing views on religion, morality, racism and sexism, underscored the bitter fight as Republicans tried and failed to pass a series of amendments.
While Monday’s debate was more constrained by legislative rules, many of the same talking points shaped the conversation.
“So much of this debate essentially treats women like objects,” reflected Rep. Mike Weissman, an Aurora Democrat who spoke at the well in support of HB-1279. He argued that men shouldn’t be driving the conversation around abortion.
Rep. Kim Ransom, a Lone Tree Republican, took issue with that sentiment. Male lawmakers who spoke against the bill were representing their “pro-life” constituents, many of them women, she argued, and abortion rights don’t just affect women’s bodies. “There’s another body in that process,” Ransom said, referring to the fetus.
But even if state lawmakers criminalized abortion, said Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, “That will not stop abortions from happening. What it will do is push people, women, families, into the shadows to have unsafe care. Back-alley abortions: They still exist in this world and they will exist in Colorado.”
Rep. Stephanie Luck, a Penrose Republican, offered an analogy that she said would describe many abortions.
So much of this debate essentially treats women like objects.
– State Rep. Mike Weissman
“If there was a stork — if that was a true story — and at the moment of conception you get a knock on the door and there lying is a baby,” getting an abortion would be like saying, “Oh, that one’s disabled. Let’s slit its throat.”
Many more speeches from lawmakers for and against HB-1279 are still to come in the state Senate.
Next, the bill will get a Senate committee hearing where members of the public will have an opportunity to comment. Public testimony during the bill’s House hearing Tuesday lasted 14 hours, drawing hundreds of people to testify.
As in the House, Democrats have majority control of the state Senate. The chamber is expected to pass HB-1279 before the legislative session ends in May and send it to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis’ desk. It would take effect immediately upon Polis’ signature.
“Governor Polis is pro-choice and supportive of efforts to protect existing rights including a woman’s right to choose in Colorado law,” Polis’ spokesperson Conor Cahill said in an email.
HB-1279 would not create any new reproductive rights in Colorado, a state where people already have access to abortion later in pregnancy. However, the bill’s sponsors say it would prevent cities and counties from banning or greatly restricting abortion, should the U.S. Supreme Court move to reverse or significantly weaken past case law affirming the right to abortion up until the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb — about 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
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