A group of Colorado lawmakers announced this afternoon that they’ll be pushing a bill next year that would protect the right to an abortion in Colorado state law, a move that would further solidify Colorado’s status as a safe zone for abortion rights as other states in the region move to restrict reproductive autonomy.
The announcement came after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which presents a direct affront to the constitutional right to an abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade nearly half a century ago.
At a rally this afternoon at the Colorado Capitol, lawmakers and abortion rights advocates lamented that they needed to be there at all to continue the fight for abortion access in the U.S., a fight some described as the battle of their parents and grandparents now being passed on to younger generations.
“Who would believe we’re still here,” said state Rep. Lisa Cutter (D-Littleton). “I don’t want my daughter to fight this fight.”
Colorado was the first state to recognize abortion rights in state law years before Roe was decided, passing a law in 1967 with bipartisan support, and lawmakers on Wednesday pledged to continue the state’s tradition of being a trailblazer when it comes to reproductive freedom.
Colorado is already a bastion of access to abortion given that it has fewer restrictions on the procedure than most states, which leads people from all over the country to travel to Colorado for abortion care, particularly later in pregnancy. But as some states with pro-choice majorities in state government have moved to put abortion protections into state law, lawmakers in Colorado have held off on pushing such a measure until now.
At today’s event, state Rep. Meg Froelich (D-Greenwood Villiage) and state Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver) announced they’re bringing a bill titled the Reproductive Health Equity Act during the upcoming legislative session that would guarantee the right to abortion in Colorado law in the absence of Roe. The measure adds an additional layer of protection for Coloradans’ reproductive rights.
“This January, when we return into that building for our legislative session, we’ll walk in, and once again, Colorado will lead the fight to ensure the fundamental right to abortion care,” Gonzales said. “Our vision is a Colorado where abortion care is treated as health care, and when someone decides to have an abortion or seek out reproductive health care, that they are able to get that care on the timeline they need with the support of the physician and health care providers whom they trust.”
“We are here today because of centuries of patriarchial attempts to control our reproductive lives,” Froelich said. “After the hearing today at the U.S. Supreme Court, we must recognize that the threat is real.”
“Without reproductive rights, there will never be equality,” she said.
The Dobbs case concerns a Mississippi law that bans abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before the viability standard outlined in Roe, which prevents states from banning abortion before the fetus could survive outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks, depending on the pregnancy.
“Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban is unconstitutional and should remain unconstitutional,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who also pledged to protect reproductive rights.
The fact that the court took up the case at all is a strong indicator that it intends to revisit Roe. The court’s conservative majority appeared poised to rule in favor of Mississippi during Wednesday’s hearing, which would deal a devastating blow to Roe and give other states the green light to pass similar restrictions. The court could also overrule Roe altogether. A decision is expected next summer.
Twenty-six states are likely to ban abortion entirely in the absence of Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute. If that happens, Colorado would see an increase of anywhere from 200,000 to 1.2 million women for whom Colorado is the closest place they can get care. Most of those women would come from Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, all of which are likely to ban abortion. On average, women in Montana currently drive 22 miles one-way to get care. In the case of an abortion ban, they’d need to drive 384 miles one-way for an abortion.
Lawmakers and advocates at the rally stressed that even when abortion is legal, it’s often inaccessible for some because of social inequalities, stigma, financial constraints, and other logistical barriers.
“We need a world, and a Colorado, where abortion isn’t just legal, but it must be accessible, affordable, and supported in our communities,” Froelich said.
“Roe v. Wade has always been the floor, not the ceiling,” said Deborah Richardson, executive director ACLU of Colorado. “Legal has never meant equally accessible, particularly for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, immigrants, the LGBTQIA community, people with disabilities, and under-resourced communities. We need to remove the barriers that prevent all people from accessing the healthcare they need and deserve.”
Such barriers include Colorado’s ban on public funding for abortion, which prevents most Medicaid users from using their insurance to cover abortion costs, and Colorado’s law that requires parents of minors to be notified if they seek abortion care.