State legislators should protect women’s reproductive freedom
After four decades of defending their reproductive freedom against anti-choice advocates, Colorado women are faced with their best opportunity ever to guarantee protection of their reproductive rights under state, as well as federal, law.
Last week, in one of the most significant acts for women in recent Colorado legislative history, the Democratic-controlled Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed The Reproductive Health Freedom Act (SB175) on a 4-3, party-line vote.
According to Senate bill sponsor Andy Kerr, D-Denver, the bill is “an effort to keep politics and politicians away from Coloradans’ health care and reproductive decisions.”
Evidenced by the constant nibbling away at Roe v. Wade by anti-choice legislators and judges — including the Roberts Supreme Court — Kerr’s concerns are justified.
Unlike states that have passed some of the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation since Roe v. Wade, the Colorado Legislature’s thin Democratic majorities have held the line against religious anti-abortion pressure groups, tea party legislators, and the Roman Catholic Church, to name only the most prominent opponents of women’s reproductive rights.
If SB175 passes, the Colorado state government would be prohibited from interfering in a woman’s private decisions regarding her reproductive health care. It would also prevent the state from banning birth control or requiring ultrasound or other invasive procedures as conditions for abortions.
The new law would also guarantee women access to scientifically accurate reproductive health care information.
As a history of repeated failures by religious conservatives to pass a constitutional amendment conferring “personhood” on a fertilized egg attests, Coloradans have spoken clearly on their opposition to anti-choice legislation.
The logical next step for Colorado is to add state protection for reproductive rights to those already guaranteed by federal law.
According to NARAL Pro-choice Colorado Executive Director Karen Middleton, if SB175 passes, it “would be one of the first and most comprehensive laws to establish state protections for women’s private decisions about reproductive health, and, as such, it could be a model for other states.”
Testifying before the HHS committee, sponsor Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Gilpin, cited a growing list of local laws across the nation that restrict the availability of accurate scientific information on reproductive decisions and limit or bar access to clinical facilities that perform abortions.
On the RH Reality Check blog, Jason Saltzman quotes Nicholson’s explanation of the Reproductive Health Freedom Act: “[It] is simply saying an individual has the right to make individual health care decisions.”
Widely hailed as the first state law of its type, SB175 would not only preserve the right of a woman to make her own decisions about reproduction, it would curtail future legislative efforts to inflict “personhood,” life-begins-at-conception dogma on the women of Colorado.
SB175 is modeled on the federal Women’s Health Care Protection Act, that proposes federal regulations against any state laws “that fail to protect women’s health and intrude upon personal decision-making” regarding reproductive matters.
The bill also guarantees the right of access to “current evidence-based scientific data and medical consensus” information regarding reproductive decisions.
Unfortunately, WHPA is not a bipartisan bill. Its legislative future is tenuous at best, and more likely a nonstarter, at least before the 2016 election.
But, while it may stall in Congress, WHPA still serves as a model for state legislation like SB175.
“While many anti-choice bills passed in other states are in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, Colorado is taking the extra precaution to make sure that they don’t see the light of day,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement also quoted by Saltzman.
“This measure is an important protection for women so that their access to comprehensive health care is not limited because of their zip code,” she said.
Democratic legislators, despite their thin margin in the Senate, are confident the bill will pass when brought to the floor.
If there ever were an auspicious time for Colorado women to demand legislative action to assure their right to freely choose their reproductive options, it is now.
With debate on the bill possible as early as next week, pro-choice women should pester their elected state representatives to assure women’s rights are protected in Colorado, regardless of their fate in federal legislation.