Colorado abortion rights advocates face new, post-Roe reality
In a landmark opinion handed down Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court brought an end to the nearly 50-year period in American history when the right to have an abortion was secured by the nation’s highest court.
Now, in some states, seeking an abortion could make someone a criminal — and advocates warn that the burden will fall disproportionately on pregnant people of color, who are more likely than white people to be arrested and detained.
“A lot of people of color … will only be targets now that they will seek abortion care,” said Aurea Bolaños Perea, spokesperson for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, or COLOR. “Our bodies will be criminalized for seeking abortion.”
In 13 states with so-called “trigger laws” set to take effect as soon as the decision went into effect, all or most abortions will be illegal in 30 days. More states are expected to pass bans or restrictions in the coming weeks. Some of the new laws include criminal consequences for people who seek the procedure.
But thanks to work by COLOR, fellow reproductive justice organization Cobalt and Democratic state lawmakers, abortion rights won’t be going away in Colorado anytime soon. A law passed this year by the Colorado Legislature codified in state law the already-existing state right to get an abortion at any point in a pregnancy.
That law, House Bill 22-1279, effectively prevents local governments from passing laws or ordinances that ban or restrict abortion. Without HB-1279, such local laws could theoretically be passed now that the Supreme Court has struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and subsequent case law that guaranteed a person’s right to abortion up until the point of “fetal viability” — about 23 or 24 weeks into a pregnancy, when a fetus can survive outside the womb.
“We’re so blessed to know that the Reproductive Health Equity Act is now law,” Bolaños Perea said. “This is exactly what we were preparing for with Roe.”
Now, abortion rights advocates in Colorado are bracing for what’s next, as anti-abortion groups prepare to ramp up their efforts across the country to outlaw the procedure. Cobalt and COLOR are already working with elected Democrats, Planned Parenthood, and other reproductive-rights advocates to get two measures on the ballot in 2024 that would take further steps to protect abortion in Colorado. The first would remove a provision in Colorado’s Constitution that prevents state funding from being used for abortion. This provision — modeled after a similar law at the federal level — means state employees must pay for abortion procedures out of pocket and the state cannot subsidize the procedure for low-income people.
“If you are a state or a federal employee in the state of Colorado, your insurance can’t cover abortion,” said Laura Chapin, communications consultant with Cobalt. “What we are looking at is removing that language from the state Constitution.”
Advocates are planning another 2024 ballot measure to incorporate HB-1279, also known as the Reproductive Health Equity Act, into the state’s Constitution. Since HB-1279 is a statutory law, it could be revoked by a future state Legislature that isn’t as fond of protecting abortion rights. Enshrining it into the Constitution would remove that possibility without a 55% vote of the people.
“The coalition is prepared as we can be to meet the moment,” Bolaños Perea said. “We know that it’s going to be hard on a lot of our communities, hard on us, for the decades that we have been working to protect abortion rights and liberate abortion access. But we also know that we’re not alone. Our community trusts in us. They are looking to us for hope.”
One Colorado, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ people, released a written statement Friday denouncing the Supreme Court opinion.
“I myself am a descendant of a great grandmother, who died giving birth to my grandfather, because their white hospitals wouldn’t treat her,” Nadine Bridges, One Colorado’s executive director, said in the statement. “She was seen as not worthy, less than and today, we are still seen that way. The policing of bodies is not new to poor folks, Black people, Indigenous folx, and the Latinx community.”
“It’s no coincidence that the same people calling for the inspection of young bodies to determine whether or not they can play on a sports team and the incarceration of families who support these young bodies, are the same folks working to control our personal sexual and reproductive health decisions and incarcerate those who dare to defy them,” Bridges added. “We must stand in defiance.”
Colorado Democrats blast Supreme Court
A Pew Research Center survey found in 2014 that 59% of Coloradans thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Slightly over a third — 36% — thought abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and 5% said they didn’t know.
In a written statement Friday, Democratic state Attorney General Phil Weiser called the Supreme Court’s decision “not only legally incorrect” but “remarkably out of step” with Americans’ views.
“The Court’s decision to overrule Roe v. Wade will cause significant suffering and harm,” Weiser said. “In many states, women who are raped will be forced to continue the pregnancy, causing untold mental anguish and distress. Doctors providing abortions will be arrested and jailed.”
Coloradans’ rights are protected, at least for now. But following the decision, Colorado Democrats issued a statement warning that both Republican candidates for governor have been outspoken in their opposition to the state’s new abortion law. Former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez has said he opposes all abortions, while CU Regent Heidi Ganahl called HB-1279 “disgusting.”
“If Republicans take the Governor’s Mansion this election, the abortion protections Coloradans count on will become a distant memory,” Democrats’ statement said. “These out of touch candidates have no problem putting lives in danger just to enforce a narrow religious view on the total population.”
State Rep. Meg Froelich, an Englewood Democrat who sponsored HB-1279 with House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo and Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver, criticized the GOP advocacy that led to a conservative-majority Supreme Court.
“For decades, Republican politicians and secretive outside groups worked to put conservatives in power on the Supreme Court in order to overturn Roe v. Wade and ban abortion,” Froelich said in a written statement. “With this decision, ultra right-wing politicians are now free to impose their own beliefs on everyone else, send abortion providers and patients to prison, and put bounties on anyone who helps them.”
In a separate statement, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse of Lafayette called the decision “deeply disappointing.” He noted that the House of Representatives passed legislation earlier this year to codify abortion rights into federal law. The measure failed in the Senate.
“Our work does not end today, and we cannot lose faith,” Neguse said. “While these efforts fell short in the Senate, we must continue to make every effort to secure passage of this critical legislation.”
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold connected the Supreme Court decision with the efforts in many states to enact new restrictions on voting, ostensibly to improve election security.
“Make no mistake: this is part of a broader assault on our fundamental rights, including our right to vote, to privacy, and to love freely — all to impose the extremist views of a few on the majority,” Griswold said in a written statement about the decision.
“The politicians who put these extreme justices on the Supreme Court and made today’s unprecedented ruling possible are behind the all-out assault on democracy and voters’ power to fight back at the ballot box,” Griswold added. “They know that our freedom to vote and our freedom to choose go hand in hand. By attacking one, they’re seeking to eliminate the other.”
Republicans, religious groups praise decision
In sharp contrast to his Democratic colleagues, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said the Supreme Court made the “right decision.”
“The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, made half a century ago, was tragically wrong and caused insurmountable damage to our nation,” Lamborn said in a Friday statement. “Human life is precious from conception to natural death and this ruling will save countless innocent lives.”
Lamborn promised to continue to reject House Democrats’ “extreme” proposed policies “that seek to allow late-term abortions and taxpayer dollars to fund these elective procedures.”
Lamborn’s primary opponent, state Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs, sponsored a bill this year that would have defined a person to include an unborn child under state laws relating to civil courts, homicide and assault — thus prohibiting abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with no explicit exceptions for rape, incest or saving the mother’s life. The bill was voted down along party lines in a Democratic-controlled House committee.
“As a mom, I know that this decision is an amazing step towards equal protection for every child,” Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown said in her own written statement. “I hope this decision leads to a real conversation — between people on all sides — about how we as a country can best work together to further support our children, mothers, and families. Life is precious. I have no doubt that this is the right decision.”
James Dobson, the founder and president of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute and previously the founder of conservative religious organization Focus on the Family, praised the decision in spiritual terms.
“Roe is dead, and, as a result, millions of innocent babies will have a chance to live and be welcomed into the world and protected by the promises of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence,” Dobson said in a written statement Friday.
“All of us who fought so hard to save innocent babies and to end the exploitation of women by the abortion industry have cause to celebrate and to thank God,” he added. “This is a tremendous day for our country.”