Colorado Lawmakers Withdraw Reproductive Health Freedom Act

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Colorado Lawmakers Withdraw Reproductive Health Freedom Act

Jason Salzman

Under pressure from Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Democrats have withdrawn legislation in Colorado that would have proactively stopped government entities from blocking women's reproductive health decisions.

Colorado lawmakers withdrew a bill Wednesday that would have barred state and local governments from interfering with reproductive health decisions.

SB 175, known as the Reproductive Health Freedom Act, faced significant opposition from social conservatives, including Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who was the featured speaker at a rally against the measure the day before it was killed.

Aquila helped drum up opposition to the bill and attendance at the rally, which drew hundreds of people, by penning a Holy Week open letter to “Coloradans of good will” stating that the measure “enshrines the culture of death into law and ignores science.”

Aquila, who recently said Satan “is real,” is not known for speaking out in defense of science but, instead, for encouraging people of faith to become active in politics. He said on Denver radio station KNUS Monday, for example, that “you can’t leave your faith in a church.”

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State Rep. Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood), one of the bill’s sponsors, told the Denver Post that he feared a contentious battle over the bill during the final three weeks of the legislative session.

“Delay and filibustering tactics were going to become the absolute rule of the day here over the next three weeks over SB 175,” Kerr told the Post in explaining why the bill was withdrawn.

Democrats hold a one-seat majority in the Colorado Senate, which was scheduled to consider the bill after it cleared a committee April 10 on a party-line vote. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is pro-choice, was expected to sign the legislation.

“We view this as a temporary interruption,” Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, told Rewire in an email. “We intend to continue our pro-active effort to protect the rights of all Coloradans to make private medical decisions, free from government interference. We’re not content to play defense any more. … Protecting privacy is a bedrock Colorado value.”

Sixty-two percent of Colorado voters surveyed in a 2013 Project New America poll “agree that a woman should be allowed to have an abortion based on her personal values and her doctor’s advice.” And in 2008 and 2010, over 70 percent of Coloradans rejected “personhood” amendments, which would have banned abortion in the state.

The proactive intent of the legislation was of particular concern to opponents like Aquila, who wrote in his open letter:

It prevents common-sense regulations like waiting periods, restrictions on abortion pills (particularly for minors), and parental notification policies. Advocates of this bill seek the absolute “right to abortion” for girls as young as 10 or 11 without a parent’s knowledge, guidance or advice. Parents are seen as unfit in the moral guidance of their children.

Among the other opponents was Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.

“It appears this is a bill intended to rally the (Democratic) base in advance of November’s election,” Suthers, a Republican, told the National Catholic Reporter. “Abortion law is already pretty clear. All unsettled issues regarding abortion are on the perimeter, meaning issues like parental notification. This law would just inflame things.”

Bill proponents repeatedly argued that their legislation was distorted.

“We’d like to thank our bill sponsors, Sen. Kerr and Sen. Nicholson, for advocating for the rights of Colorado women to make their own private, personal medical decisions without government interference,” said Middleton in a statement. “We’re disappointed that a bill that protected the privacy rights of Coloradans and reflected the will of Colorado voters was so distorted and politicized by the opponents. We believe mainstream Colorado values can and should be reflected in our laws, which is what SB 175 did.”

Anti-choice Denver talk-radio host Dan Caplis said Monday, “This is a wake-up call for what I call the sleeping majority in Colorado, who think they can’t win anymore.”

Voters in Colorado have twice overwhelmingly defeated “personhood” amendments, and the Colorado legislature is controlled by pro-choice Democrats who have soundly defeated bills infringing on a women’s right to choose.