Semantics were the order of the day when conservative Republican state senators attempted to weaken a bill defining contraception arguing that the state must first define that “life begins at conception.”
The proposed Birth Control Protection Act (SB 225). introduced by state Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, is designed to stem future frontal assaults on contraception by conservative lawmakers and religious activists who argue birth control pills are an “abortifacient,” or a substance that can induce an abortion. By legally defining a “contraceptive or contraception as a medically acceptable drug, device, or procedure used to prevent pregnancy” Boyd believes she’s created a fail-safe to protect women’s reproductive freedom.
The challenge by Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, countered that SB 225 “codifies the ability to destroy life after conception” because some contraceptive methods prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Harvey said that contraception that prevents conception is OK in the state statute but after the joining of egg and sperm it is inappropriate and morally reprehensible as if birth control pills can be programmed to act as heat-seeking missiles for free-floating zygotes.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who backed Harvey at the podium, has long-proposed defining pregnancy at conception rather than the widely-held medical and scientific interpretation that hormone excretion following the implantation of a fertilized egg in a woman’s uterus determines pregnancy. But while Harvey carefully crafted his opposition arguments, Lundberg raised the controversial “A” word immediately. The Berthoud lawmaker asserted that Boyd’s bill uses circular logic that “[contraception] is not abortive” — arguing instead that birth control “terminates” the fertilized egg between the moment of conception and implantation.
Except, obstetric and gynecological experts report that from 60 to 80 percent of fertilized eggs fail to implant naturally, completely outside the use of contraceptives. Likewise, there is no scientific test to detect pregnancy at conception until weeks after the egg implants in the uterus.
During the debate, Lundberg claimed only a small handful of other states use what he termed the “convenient,” “not unanimous” and “scientifically inaccurate” definition of pregnancy rather than the conservative Christian construct of conception. In fact, Missouri is the only state that has codified “life begins at conception” in its state constitution.
Despite their protests, Harvey and Lundberg are using a widely repudiated conservative religious frame that hormonal and device contraceptives cause abortion. That same tactic was initially voiced by proponents of the so-called “Personhood Amendment” that sought to confer constitutional rights on fertilized eggs on the 2008 state ballot. That early semantic stumble was quickly backburnered by the personhood campaign after it became apparent that Colorado’s majority pro-reproductive choice electorate was in no mood for a referendum on contraception let alone an all out anti-abortion fight.
Although Amendment 48 was soundly defeated by a 3-to-1 margin, Boyd’s bill seeks to thwart continued states rights-fueled challenges to Roe vs Wade by anti-abortion activists.
“It’s a very simple bill actually,” Boyd told the Colorado Independent moments before she introduced the legislation to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last week. “It keeps contraceptives out of the [personhood] argument … I think we’re clearly stating what contraception is and when you talk about preventing pregnancy that in no way is abortion. This is designed to prevent the potential need for anyone to seek an abortion.”
Lundberg and fellow ultra-conservative caucus members Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, and Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, panned the measure in committee but were defeated on a 5-3 party line roll call vote. Schultheis was pilloried after a Feb. 25 Senate floor discussion on SB 179 for remarking that HIV testing of pregnant women rewards promiscuity. He held his tongue during the committee debate on Boyd’s contraception bill the day after that firestorm.
At the behest of Gov. Bill Ritter and Catholic hospital representatives, Boyd offered an amendment to her own bill to exclude mifespristone, also known as RU-486, and other federally approved pharmaceuticals that induce abortion from the proposed legal definition of contraception.
Harvey’s amendment was ultimately beat back by Boyd with a title ruling request, a legal maneuver to determine whether the challenge has merit as a modification of the bill in question or goes too far afield from the subject at hand. Legislative legal services ruled that Harvey’s claim didn’t stand the test.
The bill passed on a voice vote and goes to third reading in the Senate Thursday where, if approved, will move to the House to be shepherded by co-sponsor Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver.