Republicans on State Affairs do about-face, pass contraception bill

Up was down and right was left Wednesday at the state Capitol.

You might think that if you witnessed the vote Wednesday afternoon in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a bill to let women obtain a full-year supply of birth control pills.

The committee, on an almost unheard-of 4-1 vote, approved a bill that requires insurers who provide contraception to cover up to a one-year supply within a single prescription, either for birth control pills or for other prescription contraceptives, such as vaginal contraceptive rings, which last about three months.

Joining the committee’s two Democrats in voting for the bill: Republican Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and President Pro Tem and fellow Republican Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.

That’s not what you would usually expect from the State Affairs committee, which is known as one of the two “kill” committees at the Capitol where bills, usually sponsored by members of the opposite party, are sent to die. The other “kill” committee is the House’s version of the State Affairs Committee.

In the case of the contraception bill, it had bipartisan sponsors: in the House, that was Democratic Rep. Brittany Petterson of Lakewood and Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain.

Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, the bill’s Senate sponsor, joked that if they didn’t pass the measure he would run another one to cover free vasectomies. Coram was a co-sponsor of a similar bill while a member of the House last year.

Representatives from Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and COLOR, which advocates for reproductive rights for Latinas, both attributed the vote to common sense. But there may be more to it: Hill announced last week that he’s challenging U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs for Congress in 2018.  The 2018 primary will be the first time that unaffiliated voters will be allowed to vote in a primary election.

Sonnenberg told The Colorado Independent he voted in favor because the measure would make obtaining birth control more efficient.

The same Republican-controlled committee voted the bill down on party lines a year ago, a giddy Pettersen pointed out today. So today’s vote was quite the surprise, she said. “I’m so grateful that the members of the committee decided to take a second look at it,” she added, in between jumping up and down and passing out high-fives to bystanders.

The bill now heads to the full Senate, where it is expected to pass.

As of press time*, the committee was looking at an anti-abortion bill that would require women to obtain trans-vaginal ultrasounds before proceeding with an abortion. The bill was likely sent to State Affairs because it would have been killed in the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, which normally deals with health-related measures. The committee’s vice-chair, Republican Sen. Beth Martinez-Humenik of Thornton, who hails from a Democrat-leaning district, had been the deciding “no” vote on a similar bill two years ago.

Update: The world is back to the way it usually is: the State Affairs Committee, on a 3-2 party-line vote, approved the the bill, which requires doctors to provide a “thorough and accurate description” of any abortions, including the potential immediate and long-term physical and psychological risks of abortion; that the woman wait at least 24 hours between receiving that information and seeking an abortion, and that the woman obtain either an abdominal or trans-vaginal ultrasound,  although the bill indicates the woman doesn’t have to look at it. The bill is not expected to pass the House and may even have a tough time passing the Senate.

Photo credit: UCI UC Irvine, via creative commons license, Flickr

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.