Colorado signs abortion and contraception access into state law

Colorado joins 15 other states and the District of Columbia that have recently codified abortion in law

Johanna Chisholm
Tuesday 05 April 2022 17:48 BST
Valedictorian uses her speech to rail against Texas abortion laws

Colorado Gov Jared Polis signed a bill into law that guarantees abortion access throughout the state, just months before the US Supreme Court is set to rule on a case that has the potential to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark ruling that provided the legal precedent for abortion access across the country.

“No matter what the Supreme Court does in the future, people in Colorado will be able to choose when and if they have children,” Mr Polis said during the bill signing ceremony on Monday in downtown Denver, according to the Colorado Sun. “We want to make sure that our state is a place where everyone can live and work and thrive and raise a family on their own terms.”

By signing the “Reproductive Health Equity Act”, Colorado now joins 15 other states and the District of Columbia that have codified abortion access into law, which, for these jurisdictions, means they’d be protected from any hypothetical federal repeal of abortion access.

In June, the court is set to hear a case named after Dr Thomas Dobbs, the head of Mississippi’s health department, and the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is the last clinic in the state to offer abortions.

The challenge Mississippi is bringing before the court and has the potential to weaken Roe centres around whether the state can ban abortion procedures at 15 weeks, which is approximately nine weeks before the bans are permitted under federal law.

The current court is tilted with a bench of justices who have signified in previous cases or in oral arguments to be in favour of upholding the Mississippi case.

Chief Justice John Roberts was quoted during oral arguments back in December, saying: “Why is 15 weeks not enough time?”, while conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, controversially appointed during the Trump administration, indicated an interest in allowing states to choose their own laws when it came to providing abortion access.

In this scenario, as abortion advocacy and research group the Guttmacher Institute points out, nearly half of all states would enact laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion.

Governor Polis made clear ahead of signing the law on Monday, however, that he hopes that this recent piece of legislation will buttress against any potential weakening of Roe as more cases go in front of the conservative-leaning Supreme Court.

Roe v Wade has been weakened and many legal pundits conclude that it’s likely a matter of time til the federal protections at the Supreme Court simply cease to exist,” the Colorado governor said. “We in Colorado simply don’t want to take that risk.”

The legislation lays out explicitly that abortions will continue to be provided in the state, and bans any interference from state or local governments from providing care before and after pregnancy. It also notes that any part of the gestation process – the egg, the embryo or the foetus – will not have independent rights under state law.

The Denver Post reported that, though the bill ultimately did pass, it was not without its struggles. The legislature first had to approve House Bill 1279 last month. The vote largely fell along party lines, but with Democrats controlling both chambers in the state, it passed with a majority, but not before Republicans took to the House floor for a 24-hour marathon debate, considered to be one of the longest debates in the state legislature’s history.

While this monumental piece of legislation was cheered by Democrats and activists who pushed to get it across the finish line, the Post also acknowledged in their reporting that the act doesn’t remove all restrictions, specifically the one that bans state funding for abortions. So a person, while guaranteed access to an abortion, is not necessarily covered by their state insurance.

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