Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law on Monday that codifies a person’s right to have an abortion, as the fate of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance and as conservative state legislatures pass significant abortion restrictions.
“It’s likely only a matter of time that the federal protections at the Supreme Court simply cease to exist. We in Colorado simply don’t want to take that risk. We want to act proactively to protect the rights that women already have in federal precedent in state law,” Polis, a Democrat, said during the signing ceremony at the Governor’s Residence in Denver, surrounded by bill sponsors and supporters.
The state Legislature passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act along party lines last month after a historic 24-hour debate in the House of Representatives and 12-hour debate in the Senate fueled by Republican stall tactics.
The law affirms a person’s right to choose whether to have an abortion or continue a pregnancy and whether to use contraception. It prohibits state and local governments from denying, restricting or interfering with those reproductive rights and bans discrimination against people for their reproductive health care choices. It also declares that a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have personhood rights.
In a signing statement to the state Legislature, Polis emphasized that the new law does not change much, but codifies existing protections.
“This bill will also prevent any person from being forced to end or continue a pregnancy, and ensure that no one is forced to perform or have an abortion against their will or conscience. Such is already the case in Colorado today. This bill simply maintains this status quo regardless of what happens at the federal level and preserves all existing constitutional rights and obligations,” Polis wrote.
Democratic sponsors introduced the bill in response to the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 precedent that protects the right to abortion, by a conservative United States Supreme Court. The court heard arguments for a case challenging a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi and could return a decision as soon as early summer. Legislatures in Texas, Arizona and Kentucky have all recently passed bills that ratchet back abortion rights.
RHEA faced fierce opposition from Republicans and anti-abortion activists, who crammed into the Capitol to testify against the bill during its committee hearings. On Monday, two protestors stood outside the signing ceremony.
“This is the response to the anti-abortion attacks that we’ve seen move forward in the courts and in conservative state legislatures across the country and that have been attempted right here in Colorado, despite repeated and overwhelming rejection by voters,” Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, said. Colorado voters have rejected various anti-abortion ballot measures over the years.
“In response to those voters, and in response to the consistent and sustained support for reproductive health care by Coloradans in every corner of the state — urban, rural, and everywhere in between — the people, speaking unanimously through their democratic elected representatives in both chambers, have affirmed that we should trust Coloradans to make their own reproductive health care decisions,” Gonzales said.
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