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Colorado Legislature Passes Ban on Local Interferences With Reproductive Health-Care Decisions

Jason Salzman

In what could be a national model for states aiming to curb local restrictions on abortion, legislation is moving through the Colorado legislature that would establish fundamental rights of privacy and freedom to make decisions about reproductive health.

In a 4-3 committee vote Thursday, lawmakers in Colorado passed legislation forbidding state and local government from interfering with reproductive health-care decisions or with access to reproductive health-care information based on “current evidence-based scientific data and medical consensus.”

At a pre-vote hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee Thursday, state Sen. Jeanne Nicholson (D-Gilpin) pointed to a growing list of local laws that restrict abortion or control abortion-related information and testified that her legislation, called the “Reproductive Health Freedom Act,” “is simply saying an individual has the right to make individual health care decisions.”

In response, Natalie Decker, an attorney representing the Alliance Defending Freedom, testified that the measure should actually be called the “Colorado Abortion on Demand Act.”

Decker told lawmakers that the “deceptive” legislation is so “vague” and “broad” that it could “prohibit any restriction to abortion whatsoever.” She particularly objected that terms such as “interfere,” “evidence-based scientific data,” and “policy” were not defined in the short bill.

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“Reproductive health care” is defined in the proposed law to mean “treatment, services, procedures, supplies, products, devices, or information related to human sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, abortion, or assisted reproduction.”

The legislation states that “every individual possesses a fundamental right of privacy with respect to reproductive health care decisions.”

State Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), who voted against the bill, repeatedly asked why the term “individual” wasn’t defined in the legislation and argued that the measure is “meaningless” without such a definition.

The proposed law, which passed in a party-line vote, “presumes an unborn human being has no rights,” Lundberg said during the hearing.

“What individuals are we protecting and which individuals are we exposing to destruction,” Lundberg asked.

If passed, the legislation “would be one of the first and most comprehensive laws to establish state protections for women’s private decisions about reproductive health, and, as such, it could be a model for other states,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. It could stop municipalities, for example, in some states from enacting anti-choice policies.

“While many anti-choice bills passed in other states are in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, Colorado is taking the extra precaution to make sure that they don’t see the light of day,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. “This measure is an important protection for women so that their access to comprehensive health care is not limited because of their zip code.”

The bill, which is expected to clear the legislature and be signed by pro-choice Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, has been taking a beating by social conservatives on talk radio.

“This is a clear play by the state legislature to bypass and subvert the will of the people,” said local talk show host Dan Caplis, who runs a small Denver law firm, to his audience on April 9.

“This is a bill that would stop the state from ‘interfering’ with any woman’s decision to have an abortion,” Caplis said on air. “So that could be used potentially to knock out parental notification [or] all these restrictions that Coloradans and other people around the country are now placing on abortion. I hope this is part of the inevitable march of the people of this great nation to saying, ‘Wait a second. We can’t be killing our kids before they’re born. That’s goofy.'”

In fact, abortion rights are popular in Colorado. A 2013 Project New America poll found that “62 percent of voters surveyed agree that a woman should be allowed to have an abortion based on her personal values and her doctor’s advice.” Just 9 percent of voters want abortion banned completely, according to the same poll.

In 2008 and 2010, voters here overwhelmingly rejected “personhood” amendments, which would have banned all abortion.

Abortion is legal in Colorado, and the state constitution prohibits public funding of abortion and mandates parental notification.

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