Reanimated Colorado abortion bill fuels anxious opposition

Colorado lawmakers today will consider a bill that would ban abortion, even in cases of rape and incest and make it a Class 3 felony for doctors to perform the procedure.

The bill, HB 1133, sponsored by Severance Republican Rep. Stephen Humphrey, has been dismissed by political analysts as a mere ritualistic test of Republican-lawmaker ideological commitment that is very likely to die at the hands of majority Democrats in its first committee hearing today.

But pro-choice activists are taking the bill very seriously and have planned a rally at the capitol this afternoon before the hearing gets underway.

Karen Middleton, NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado director, told the Independent that calling attention to this kind of legislation is important, especially given the way the local and national political landscape on the issue of women’s reproductive rights has shifted in recent years.

“Leadership in the Colorado House and Senate is always in the balance,” she said. “This is a bill that has been introduced in the past and will likely be introduced again. It could get through, maybe not this year, but next year… Voters have to take note.”

The bill is no outlier as far as the state Republican caucus goes. It is being sponsored by party leaders in the House, and many of the Republicans likely to vote for it are either running for higher office or have voiced plans to do so. Rep. Mark Waller is running for attorney general. Sens. Owen Hill and Randy Baumgardner are running for the U.S. Senate. Sen. Greg Brophy is running for governor and Sen. Scott Renfroe has said he may run this year for Congress.

Middleton, a former state representative from Aurora, said the Colorado voting population is more libertarian in its attitude on social issues than are the Republican lawmakers they send to Denver — one of the reasons voters could be taken by surprise when a bill like this suddenly becomes law.

“I think a lot of voters in the state are pro-choice because they’re for small government. They’re independent-minded,” she said. But she said they’re also fatigued by recurring ballot measures and intense swing-state political campaigns.

“In Colorado, they have voted in large majorities against anti-abortion measures year after year, so they think the issue is settled,” she said. “They think they already beat this kind of thing back and so they don’t have to be vigilant. But the other side is vigilant. It’s also energized.”

Middleton points to the historic wave of anti-abortion bills passed in statehouses around the country in recent years that, she suggests, voters may not have supported had the consequences of the laws been more clearly spelled out in debate.

“You can see what is happening. You see what happened in Texas,” she said.

The hearing on the bill comes just two days before a new law in Michigan is set to take effect. That law will prohibit insurance companies from providing abortion coverage unless customers buy add-on “riders” to their policies. But no insurance companies operating in the state will provide policy riders to customers who don’t belong to group plans. Critics of the new law point out that elective abortions in Michigan are already nearly all paid for out of pocket by patients so, they say, the bill effectively targets only women who want to give birth but face health risks if they bring the pregnancy to term. Those women will now be faced with an already daunting decision complicated by the prospect that they will be saddled with bank-account breaking medical bills not covered by insurance if they decide to terminate the pregnancy.

A law put into effect last year in Texas will likely close 20 abortion clinics this year, reducing the number of facilities in the entire state to single digits. The law has already closed the few abortion clinics that had been scattered in the vast, hard-scrabble southern Rio Grand Valley. But, as many observers pointed out since the law was first introduced, those clinics didn’t only provide abortions; they also provided vital preventative care, birth control and cancer screenings to a desperately underserved population.

According to the New York Times, women from the area now embark on four- and five-hour trips over hundreds of miles to clinics in San Antonio and Austin, or they get no treatment at all.

The law required clinic doctors to gain admitting privileges to a nearby hospital but, in south Texas, that was a hurdle too high to clear. There are often no hospitals within the 30-mile limit established by the law and the hospitals in the area wouldn’t provide clinic doctors with applications.

Supporters of the law argued it would protect patient health by imposing higher operational standards. Opponents said that the law was a transparent move to effectively ban abortion by forcing clinics to close.

Louisiana lawmakers are now looking to copy the Texas bill. A Mississippi version will likely close down that state’s lone remaining abortion clinic.

“That could happen here,” said Middleton. “Colorado is not as big as Texas, but it’s a big state, too. Colorado women don’t want any clinics here to close.”

Humphrey’s bill won’t be the last shot voters in Colorado hear in this year’s battle over abortion.

Congressman Cory Gardner, who is now running for U.S. Senate, sponsored a 2007 version of the Humphrey bill when he was a state lawmaker, a fact that is sure to feature largely in campaign ads paid for by Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall’s reelection campaign.

Voters will also likely be asked to weigh another anti-abortion personhood initiative, the third Coloradans will have voted on since 2008. The initiative would grant fertilized human eggs full legal rights and outlaw abortion in all cases, as well as some contraception and fertility research and treatments. Supporters of the so-called Brady Amendment have already gathered 40,000 more signatures this year than did supporters of a similar, failed proposal in 2012.

* Correction: The original version of this article listed attorney general candidate Cynthia Coffman as a lawmaker. She is not a lawmaker. She is deputy attorney general.

[ Truth Truck image by Paco Lyptic ]


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