It’s more or less the same story every year in Colorado’s General Assembly. Republicans introduce ill-fated bills to restrict abortion, lawmakers are forced to spend hours hotly debating the topic, Democrats block said bills, and we all get to move on with our lives.
Democratic lawmakers defeated two anti-abortion measures yesterday, one that would have banned abortion under essentially any circumstances, and another so-called “abortion surveillance” bill that would have required the state to publish personal information from abortion patients.
“Months after Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a dangerous ballot initiative to limit abortion access, Republicans are at it again,” said House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, (D-Pueblo) in a press release. “Between proposing that doctors who perform abortions be charged with a class one felony and demanding that women who undergo the procedure face probing and intimate questions about their personal lives, Republicans have shown how out of touch they are with our state.”
First up was the all-out ban, the Protect Human Life at Conception Act, which lead sponsor Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock) called “the reason I’m here” and “the most important bill we’ve ever had down here.”
“If I could do one thing as a legislator it would be to protect our unborn children,” he said.
State Rep. Susan Lontine (D-Denver), who chairs the House Health and Insurance committee, pointed out that it was the seventh time she’s heard the bill and said she has started to use the same remarks each year.
“This is personhood, and personhood has gone to the ballot three times now,” Lontine said. “Each time the voters of Colorado have voted personhood down by a margin of 70 percent to 30 percent. The voters are very clear here and they have spoken.”
“Women are more than reproductive vessels, more than servants of an authoritarian state,” she said.
Next up, a bill Colorado lawmakers had never considered before that would force abortion providers to collect personal, sensitive information from patients to be compiled in a public report.
That information includes the patient’s reasons for getting an abortion, how many abortions they’ve had, how they’re paying for the abortion, and more. The bill stopped short of requiring that patients’ names also be made public.
Despite lead sponsor Rep. Stephanie Luck’s (R-Penrose) efforts to characterize the legislation as a simple matter of data collection, it was a thinly-veiled attempt to stigmatize and restrict abortion, a fact made glaringly obvious by one key advocate who said the aim of the bill is to “reduce [women’s] perceived need for abortion.”
“I believe it can lead to the development of private/public policies and programs that address abortion demand and refine our services to women to reduce their perceived need for abortion,” wrote Tom Perille, a key advocate for Prop. 115 and for the abortion surveillance bill in a blog post for Denver Catholic. “This bill is the first step in our effort to regroup and educate the people of Colorado after the failure of Prop 115.”
In November, Colorado voters soundly rejected Proposition 115, the fourth anti-abortion ballot measure to be rejected in a 12-year span.
In her testimony opposing the bill, Selina Najar, Political Director for the Colorado reproductive rights advocacy organization Cobalt, said the legislation is “invasive, stigmatizing, and it violates a patient’s most basic right: the right to privacy.”
“Anti-abortion activists who support HB-1138 have dubbed it an ‘abortion surveillance bill,'” Najar said. “This bill is straight out of the anti-abortion playbook, based on model bills being pushed across 30 states by national extremist organizations whose only goal is to criminalize abortion care.”
“We’ve seen some heinous anti-choice proposals introduced in the past, but today’s bill was truly something out of a Handmaid’s Tale fever dream,” Lontine said after she and her Democratic colleagues struck it down.
These bills rarely get news coverage (other than by me at the Colorado Times Recorder), probably because there’s no chance of them passing given Democratic majorities in the legislature and Democratic Governor Jared Polis, leading other news outlets to determine they’re not newsworthy. But they tell us something important about the Colorado Republican Party: it will keep working to undermine reproductive autonomy, no matter how tiresome the effort becomes, no matter the will of voters, no matter the deadly issues Coloradans are facing at the time (see: a pandemic, gun massacres). Republican lawmakers in Colorado will continue to devote their time to pushing extreme anti-abortion policies that voters don’t want and have no chance of passing.
But as Denver area advocate Christy Powell pointed out, political majorities aren’t fixed, and so neither is reproductive freedom.
“It is a grim reminder yet again that we are always one election away from this type of legislation becoming law here,” said Powell in her testimony, which we published in full here. “So in that regard, I want to thank the sponsors for making crystal clear the type of leadership you would bring and why those of us who care about reproductive rights, personal privacy, and our right to control our own bodies need to keep you in the minority.”