A Bill Making Abortion Free Was Pulled in Colorado. Here’s Why Advocates Still Have Hope.

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A Bill Making Abortion Free Was Pulled in Colorado. Here’s Why Advocates Still Have Hope.

Jason Salzman

The legislation serves as an "organizing tool" that could "lay the groundwork" for the repeal of Colorado's ban on public abortion funding, said Karla Gonzales Garcia, director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights.

Reproductive health and justice advocates in Colorado are hailing legislation introduced this week in the state house, and subsequently pulled by its sponsor, as a step toward guaranteeing access to reproductive health care—including abortion—for Coloradans.

The pro-choice legislation introduced Wednesday and pulled on Thursday could build momentum to repeal the state’s ban on public funding for abortion care, advocates said.

The Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice Act, HB 18-1438, would have extended Medicaid’s postpartum coverage from 60 to 180 days; eliminated Colorado’s five-year residency requirement for immigrants to access reproductive health care; and mandated that government and private health insurance plans offer contraception, prenatal care, and sterilization services such as tubal ligations and vasectomies.

Under the legislation, all reproductive health care, including abortion care, would be available without fees or deductibles.

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With two weeks left in Colorado’s legislative session, political observers had thought it highly unlikely that the bill would be taken up for debate by the Republican-held state senate even if the legislation made its way through the Democratic-majority house.

But activists who pushed for the bill saw the introduction of the bill as a step toward passage next year and toward rescinding Colorado’s 1984 amendment banning the use of public funds for abortion services.

The legislation serves as an “organizing tool” that could “lay the groundwork” for the repeal of Colorado’s ban on public abortion funding, Karla Gonzales Garcia, director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), which aims to empower Latinas, told Rewire.News.

“We knew there would be challenges to getting through the process and we would likely run out of time,” Gonzales Garcia said.  “The sponsor did not receive the fiscal note [an estimate of the cost of proposed legislation] until right before the hearing. We wanted to make sure to do the appropriate analysis.” 

The pro-choice measure would cost $20 million per year, according to state legislative budget officials, the Daily Sentinel reports. That would account for 0.7 percent of the state budget.

The long-term fate of the legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo), likely hinges on whether Democrats retain control of the governor’s office this November and secure a majority in the state senate.

Abortion rights foes in Colorado denounced the effort to expand reproductive health care access.

Former state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs) called the legislation “immoral, unconstitutional, and harmful to immigrants.” 

“This bill is unfriendly to immigrants coming to Colorado, because it offers to kill their children immediately upon arrival here, or earlier than the current five-year waiting period to kill children with taxpayer dollars,” Klingenschmitt said in an email to Rewire.News. 

Organizers at COLOR saw the bill’s health-care coverage components—particularly the expansion of postpartum treatment and the requirement for insurance coverage for reproductive health care without co-pays—as addressing the systemic injustice in the U.S. health-care system that disproportionately affects people of color.

“This bill goes to the core of what it means for access to reproductive health care to be a reality, and that is to be able to afford the care,” Gonzalez Garcia said. “If you can’t afford the care because you are denied health coverage, then you don’t have the right to reproductive health care. Too many women of color and low-income families continue to experience disparities in being able [to] obtain services. Having insurance coverage means we can manage our health and plan our families and our futures.”

“This bill is not only a very strong political statement, that Colorado will do the right thing and affirm the right to reproductive health care, but it addresses some key reproductive justice issues as well,” said Gonzalez Garcia, pointing to coverage for early cancer screenings and the steps to ensure access for immigrants.

Backers of the bill believe the legislation showed Colorado is taking a leadership role in bolstering reproductive health care as health care comes under attack from the Trump administration.

“In this really hostile climate, there are states that are drawing the line and stepping up with pro-active legislation to push back,” Gonzalez Garcia said. “This is all about making access to the care we need, including abortion a reality regardless of income, insurance type, or immigration status. While our opponents are trying to take away access to abortion and roll back important gains in health-care expansion, this bill, along with the bill that was signed in Oregon and other proactive bills in states around the country, are really about taking a strong stand and making it clear that we make our health decisions and control our futures.”