(April 7) – The seven female Democrats on the House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee defended women’s right to choose by voting today to kill a bill, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, designed to shut down abortion clinics in Colorado.
Usually a strong opponent of government regulation, Rep. Neville crafted a bill—the so-called “Women’s Health Protection Act”—that places excessively high fees and impossible regulations on clinics that provide women access to their constitutional right to abortion. Contrary to Rep. Neville’s testimony, legal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, pointed out that the $6,000 licensing fee established in the bill varies widely from the $150 licensing fee for birthing centers.

This bill follows efforts by anti-choice groups in states across the country to pass similar legislation disguised as women’s health protection but with the goal to shut down clinics. The passage of one such law in Texas has led to the closure of numerous clinics in the state, widespread national criticism and a pending Supreme Court case with a decision expected in June.

Many of the witnesses who spoke in favor of the bill made no secret of the fact that they support the closure of abortion clinics in Colorado. The first witness spoke in favor of the Texas law.

The bill also sneaks in a possible attempt to establish personhood for a fetus, something that has been voted on and rejected by Colorado voters three times, most recently in November 2014.

One of the most problematic aspects of the bill, as pointed out by Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, was changing the oversight of health clinics that perform abortions from the health experts in the Department of Public Health & Environment to the Attorney General. Licensing of health clinics would be far outside of the typical purview of the AG.

Ann Crawford, a young woman who moved to Colorado a few years ago from Texas, spoke in opposition to the bill based on her experiences with the Texas law.

“The women’s health protection act does not protect me, it makes me unsafe,” testified Ms. Crawford to the committee. The Planned Parenthood clinic in her home town of Lubbock, Texas, had to shut down as a result of the bill and women like her were then forced to travel hundreds of miles for access to an abortion. She told the story of a friend who was unable to get the abortion she sought—though she had the means to travel the 521 miles to Houston, she was unable to get an appointment at the now overbooked clinic.

Ashley Wheeland, Legislative and Political Director, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, testified that the closure of clinics due to this bill would disproportionately affect minority and low income women.

“Where you live and your income should not determine your access to safe abortion care,” testified Ms. Wheeland.

The bill died on a 7-6 vote and is the fifth attack on a woman’s right to choose that has been defeated by House Democrats this session.

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