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Majority Leader Esgar & Rep. Frolich Opinion: Abortion access must be written into Colorado law because Roe vs. Wade is in jeopardy

Jan 24, 2022

The following op-ed was published in The Denver Post.


This year could very well be the last anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that established the constitutional right to abortion.

We are at a crisis point.

The time to take action and protect our rights is now, so as Colorado lawmakers we have crafted a proactive abortion rights bill that will soon be introduced in the Colorado General Assembly.

Protecting abortion access has to be a priority in the 2022 legislative session, and we are the lead sponsors on the Reproductive Health Equity Act, or RHEA.

The Reproductive Health Equity Act will ensure every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception; every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right to choose to continue a pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion; and a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of Colorado.

Barriers to abortion access always fall heaviest on those with the least access to health care already — communities of color, low-income people, young people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, rural Coloradans. RHEA would also address that equity gap.

The worst restrictions to abortion access and reproductive health care have come from state legislatures across the nation, and as state lawmakers, we are obligated to take action in the opposite direction here in Colorado.

Because Colorado is such a strongly pro-abortion rights state, people are surprised to learn there’s nothing expressly protective of abortion access or reproductive health care in Colorado law. Yes, we have defeated many attempts to ban or restrict abortion at the legislature and the ballot box, but there are no state laws explicitly protecting the constitutional right to access abortion and reproductive health care in Colorado.

Why? Until now, we haven’t needed anything in state law; we had the constitutional protection of Roe and the federal courts. We might not anymore. The Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe with the case known as Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health, a case challenging Mississippi’s unconstitutional abortion ban.

Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health was argued on Dec. 1, and a decision is expected in June 2022. It’s entirely likely abortion access could be struck down as a federal, constitutional right and returned to the states. If Roe is overturned, abortion will likely become illegal in roughly half the country, including many states around Colorado.

In 2020, 64% of Coloradans surveyed agreed with the statement “abortion should be legal in all cases or most cases with some restrictions.” Support was even higher for:

“politicians need to stop trying to force their beliefs on women when it comes to abortion.” (82% agreed)

“when it comes to ending a pregnancy, a woman should have the power to make decisions about her own body.” (76% agreed)

Across the country, about 6 in 10 Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

And during the last election, Coloradans across party and county lines voted to defeat Proposition 115, a ban on abortion later in pregnancy, by nearly 20 points. In 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, Coloradans overwhelmingly rejected harmful and dehumanizing amendments to the state Constitution that would have created “fetal personhood” and outlawed abortion in the state. And since 2010, we have seen 41 pieces of legislation introduced — and defeated — that would restrict or eliminate abortion access for Coloradans.

But that’s not enough. We need to meet this moment of crisis on abortion rights with action. Our job as legislators is to pass laws that respect the will of our constituents and Colorado citizens, who have made it clear over and over again that they support abortion rights. This legislation serves as a model for other states to expand and protect access to reproductive health care, including abortion.

We already have very strong support in the legislature for the Reproductive Health Equity Act, and we would urge Coloradans to call or email their legislators and let them know they support it.

Once again, it is time for Colorado to be a leader on abortion and reproductive rights.

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