Hours of scattered and clumsy debate among lawmakers and citizens over women’s rights and the unborn stymied pro-life advocates who fought an aggressive abortion “rights” bill at the state Capitol last week.
The Reproductive Health Freedom Act, or Senate Bill 175, was pushed through a legislative committee April 10 and may be considered by the state Senate this week.
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Local abortion advocates gained the support of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) to pass the bill, which threatens to become the first in the country to create unfettered access to abortion and eradicate life-affirming laws in the state.
NARAL stated in releases last week that “It’s time to make sure Colorado stops attacks on reproductive health care once and for all” and ensure pro-life protections “don’t see the light of day.”
The Colorado Catholic Conference, which represents the Church’s state level public policy, stated the bill poses an “undeniable and irreparable danger” to pro-life laws.
“This legislation has the potential to eliminate a broad range of policies, including, but not limited to, parental notification, conscience protection for health providers, and the list could go on,” conference director Jenny Kraska said before the Health and Human Services Committee.
It could void state laws that restrict abortion and protect youths and school policies on abstinence education, she said.
The bill proposes to deny a government or policy the ability to interfere with an individual’s reproductive health care decisions, defined as “treatment, services, procedures, supplies, products, devices or information related to human sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, abortion or assisted reproduction.”
The language harkens back to the 2009 federal Freedom of Choice Act that U.S. bishops and pro-life advocates nationwide fought against for its proposal to establish abortion as a right and prohibit all interference with the decision. The federal FOCA was defeated. Earlier versions proposed in 1989 and 1993 also failed.
The Church in Colorado responded by launching a postcard campaign to give voice to the dignity of life and to urge lawmakers to uphold pro-life legislation.
Karna Swanson, spokeswoman for the Denver Archdiocese, said the broad interpretation of Senate Bill 175 poses even more damaging threats to mothers and babies.
“The pro-life movement has been working for decades to promote legislation that protects life and promotes a culture that is life-giving and life-affirming. This legislation directly attacks those efforts, and threatens to sever that most beautiful bond between mother and child,” Swanson said.
Much of the testimony and debate during the April 10 legislative hearing was centered on the bill’s language. Lawmakers questioned the reference to an “individual’s” reproductive health care decisions and what denial or interference means.
Pro-life advocates argued the language threatens the life of the unborn.
“For many of the citizens in Colorado, individuals exist before they’re born. And then I as member of the Legislature in Colorado have a responsibility to defend their inalienable rights,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Larimer, a member of the committee. “I believe it’s important that we understand what we’re talking about and not gloss over the basic philosophy, moral and theological principles that are at play with this legislation.”
Bill co-sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Jefferson, said the term “individual” speaks for itself.
“I definitely believe there is a fundamental right of an individual to make their own decisions about their own body,” Kerr said to the committee. “A person has the right to make those decisions above the government coming into their bedroom and making those decisions for them.”
Others worried the bill’s language would need the court’s intervention and could force organizations to provide objectionable services and devices related to contraception, abortion and sexuality.
Marcy McGovern of Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Denver testified she was concerned the bill would impact their nonprofit.
“We know that as a private organization we still need to adhere to the law. So the concern would be that if this broad law passes there would be trickle-down effects for us,” McGovern told the committee.
Other testimony was split over the freedom to access reproductive health and if there are current limitations on a woman’s decision.
Kraska stated women already have freedom to make reproductive health decisions in the state and that the law is unnecessary.
“This legislation, no matter what the title might imply, is not about freedom,” she testified. “Freedom is more than an unlimited supply of choices. True freedom is the ability to know and the courage to do what is right and what is just. And this legislation is neither right nor just for the people of Colorado and it certainly does nothing to respect the dignity of the human person.”
One woman reiterated she only wants the freedom to choose without government intervention.
“I don’t agree with people who try to legislate their morality on my body,” said Jackie Perkins of Denver.
The conference is urging all citizens with pro-life views to contact their representatives.
Swanson added that speaking against the bill is to take a stand “in favor of mom and baby.”
“There is so much in our culture that tries to tear families apart,” she said. “Let’s take a stand to keep mom and baby together.”
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