Colorado abortion rights: Activists, lawmakers react to leaked decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

A leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning the landmark 1973 abortion rights case Roe v. Wade is “exactly what we feared,” Colorado abortion rights activists say.

Groups like Cobalt and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights have been sounding the alarm over the past couple of years about the likelihood of losing the right to abortions with a majority of conservative Supreme Court justices, and the document obtained by Politico confirmed those worries.

“With this potential decision, this court is yet again showing it has no problem harming pregnant people across the country, particularly Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, undocumented people, and those having difficulty making ends meet,” said Dusti Gurule, President and CEO of COLOR, in a statement.

That’s why Colorado lawmakers earlier this year passed HB22-1279, dubbed the Reproductive Health Equity Act,  that would guarantee the right to abortions, contraceptives and other health care in the state without government interference – something both Democratic lawmakers and abortion rights advocates had previously resisted.

 

Prior to the passage of this law, Colorado did not have any gestational restrictions on abortions, but it didn’t have any guarantees either. Those in favor of allowing Coloradans to get abortions didn’t want to attract more attention to a decisive issue when it was already legal in the state and felt they were more on “defense.”

But as more states across the country began to pass laws that restricted abortions and the Supreme Court began to lean toward repealing abortion protections, they decided to take action.

“This is exactly what we feared and why it was so important for Colorado to protect the fundamental right to abortion in Colorado law with the Reproductive Health Equity Act,” Cobalt President Karen Middleton said in a statement. “We have warned legislators and the public alike that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v Wade, and this further confirms it.”

Unlike other states that have what are called “trigger laws” that would automatically outlaw abortions based on a final Supreme Court decision, Coloradans will continue to have the option to get abortions regardless of what happens nationally. And people from other states who can afford it will continue seeking abortions in Colorado where it’s legal – though that will prove dangerous in states like Texas where they have tried to punish those who do so or help others get the operations.

But for now, that’s only as long as Democrats remain in control of the General Assembly and governor’s office. A Republican majority could repeal the state law, so advocacy groups are also seeking a ballot measure that would enshrine the right in the state constitution if voters pass a planned ballot measure in 2024 for abortion access.

Colorado Republicans, however, welcomed the national news. Rep. Stephanie Luck, a Penrose Republican and active anti-abortion lawmaker who has introduced failed bills restricting abortions in the state, said she was “delighted but not surprised” by the leaked court opinion.

“There will be abortion tourism (in Colorado) as more and more states around us close the door to that and secure the right to life for the unborn and protect their women,” she said. “We will see folks come here, but I don’t believe the debate is over in Colorado.”

Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown said in a statement that she believes “countless lives have been saved” if the Politico report is true.

“Like the majority of Americans, Republicans believe that every single life is precious and that every child is worth saving,” she said. “Equal rights are not equal until they extend to every human being. I pray that the Supreme Court releases an official decision that recognizes that fact.”

But most recently in Colorado, voters have rejected constitutional changes that would have outlawed abortion in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014. In 2020, voters also rejected a ballot measure to ban abortions at 22 weeks.

Democratic lawmakers who sponsored the legislation to guarantee abortion in Colorado House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, Rep. Meg Froehlich of Englewood and Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver echoed Luck’s statement that they were not surprised by the decision. But they said in a release that such a decision “will imperil the lives of those seeking an abortion and threaten the health, safety, and reproductive freedom of millions of Americans.”

“States across the country will continue to pass restrictive anti-abortion legislation or outright bans, making abortion nearly impossible for some and sending doctors to prison for providing abortion care.”

Colorado can only control its destiny to a point. A Republican trifecta in D.C. could produce a nationwide abortion ban, and in that event, Colorado may be unable to welcome providers of safe and legal abortion.

Denver Post reporter Alex Burness contributed to this report. 

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