Colorado is on track to make abortion and gender-affirming protections law

After more than 29 hours of often tense and emotional debates over three days, Colorado lawmakers passed the Democrats’ three priority gender-affirming abortion and care bills Saturday night.

Bills passed Saturday impose tougher regulations on advertising and unproven scientific claims from crisis pregnancy centers, codify protections for abortion care and gender-affirming providers, and expand coverage of insurance for abortion and other reproductive health treatments. They represent the latest steps in Democrats’ ongoing efforts to enshrine and expand abortion access into state law amid the national fallout from the Dobbs decision in June, a push that began last year and is expected to continue with ballot measures in November 2024.

“I’m so glad we were able to deliver on the promise of (the Reproductive Health Equity Act),” Democratic Rep. Meg Froelich said of the bill’s passage. “The new patchwork of laws across the United States is confusing and dangerous. Our fundamental rights have been reaffirmed, established and tested in Colorado. »

That means making sure patients and providers are protected, ensuring access and affordability, and removing barriers to care due to “biased advice”, she added. “It was a lot – three bills and many days of debate. But the threats are real, and there is now an urgency because of the landscape. »

The passage of the package — which, barring reconciliations with the Senate, is on its way to Governor Jared Polis’ office — comes less than a year after the General Assembly strengthened the Employment Equity Act. reproductive health beyond a 24-hour Republican filibuster. The law guarantees the right to abortion in Colorado. To avoid a similar filibuster this time around, House Democrats took the unusual step on Thursday and Friday of limiting debate on the three reproductive health bills to a total of 20 hours.

Democratic leaders said the limitations — which prior to last weekend’s gun debates had not been imposed on the House in recent memory — were necessary to allow for sufficient debate and to keep the debate buzzing. House calendar. The Democrats’ decision to repeatedly limit debate this year is a sign, their members said, of Republicans’ inability to follow through on deals reached with Democratic leaders, as well as a nod to the depth of disagreement between lawmakers on each side on abortion and gender-affirming care.

Abortion and gender-affirming care are core issues for both sides, especially following the US Supreme Court’s decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last year overturning the rights to abortion and the development of anti-abortion and transgender laws that have taken hold across the country. The debate over the package, which spanned three days from late Thursday morning, sometimes went from respectful and technical to emotional and heated. Democrats have described the bills as essential to protect pregnant women and families in Colorado and further strengthen the state’s place as an abortion haven.

The first of the bills passed Saturday, SB23-190, prohibits the use of ‘misleading advertising’ by crisis pregnancy centers and designates the offering of so-called abortion reversal drugs as “unprofessional conduct”. That vote was followed by discussion of SB23-188, which bars the state from recognizing or bringing criminal charges or lawsuits against anyone who receives, provides, or assists with abortions and gender-affirming care. The last was SB23-189, which requires insurance to cover reproductive health care, including full coverage for abortions and sterilizations, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

Republicans have denounced the proposed regulations against crisis pregnancy centers — which are often faith-based and advertise unproven medical treatments — as anti-Christian and an affront to people who want alternatives to abortion. Some gave graphic descriptions of abortion procedures, and at one point Republican Rep. Scott Bottoms surreptitiously held up a picture of a baby on the floor of the house. They framed several of the bills — related to gender-affirming care and access to contraception — as abuses of parental rights, which Democrats called ill-informed.

Other arguments were more technical: Republican leaders Reps. Mike Lynch and Rose Pugliese told reporters Thursday afternoon that nonpartisan Capitol lawyers had determined that SB23-188 — which protects abortion and Gender-Affirming Care – was made up to be unconstitutional and would need to be significantly changed.

The Democratic sponsors — Froelich and Rep. Brianna Titone — told the Denver Post they were aware of the issue and weren’t concerned. (They would later pass a relatively minor amendment on Friday). Still, Republican lawmakers argued on Saturday that the bill remains unconstitutional.

Lawmakers supporting the measure spoke about their own pregnancies, sexual assaults, abortion care and raising transgender children while Republicans shared stories of miscarriages and adoption. After Republican Rep. Ken DeGraaf said on Friday that most pregnancies were “self-inflicted injuries” that therefore did not warrant specific insurance protections, Democratic Rep. Jenny Willford responded by describing her own sexual assault and the fear of subsequent pregnancy. This, she said, was not “self-inflicted”.

After DeGraaf then pointed out that “99.5%” of pregnancies are self-inflicted, Willford and a number of other Democratic lawmakers stood before him with their arms crossed. Tensions rose to the point that a Sergeant-at-Arms – a House staff member who enforces rules and order in the Chamber – moved within 5ft of the podium. Rep. Richard Holtorf, the Republican whip, crossed over to the Democratic side and spoke to lawmakers in a bid to ease tensions. When DeGraaf rose to speak again, Froelich shook his head in his direction.

Lawmakers and officials on both sides of the aisle had worried about the tone of the debate in the days leading up to it, particularly over the gender-affirming care bill. In early March, House Republicans turned a token vote on the Equal Rights Amendment into a critique of transgender people, prompting Titone — Colorado’s only openly transgender lawmaker — to reprimand them and remind them that she was their equal.

On Friday, Republicans had focused some of the debate on gender-affirming care for minors and caste treatment as experimental and harmful (medical experts say gender-affirming care is essential to the well-being of trans youth). Holtorf, of Akron, spoke at length on the issue from the House floor and said he supported banning gender affirmation “procedures” for minors (such procedures are rare; according to Reuters, less than 300 minors have undergone gender-affirming breast surgery). in 2021).

This prompted Titone to respond, calling Holtorf’s perspective “narrow and lacking in empathy at all”, and she wondered why anyone would choose to be transgender, given the discrimination at which he faces.

“Why would you want to be that? Why would you want to be a trans person when governments tell you that you can’t play sports, that you can’t be yourself? said Titone. “Why would anyone want that?” Nobody would want that.

Although Colorado Springs Democratic Rep. Stephanie Vigil thanked Republicans who used more inclusive language on Saturday, she chastised other comments, saying, “I just want to be absolutely clear that some of the false This well’s remarks about the supposed ongoing grooming are extremely dangerous rhetoric. … The absolutely false repeated accusation that transgender people and families of trans children commit this heinous offense is beyond cruelty.

Although Republican leaders denounced the limits of debate at a press conference on Thursday morning, they finally gave time to the clock on Friday. Due to a quirk of House rules, it appeared the debate was to stretch past midnight and into Saturday, which would mean lawmakers would likely have to return for a final vote on Sunday. Leaders of the two parties then reached an agreement to end the debate at 9 p.m. on Friday, leaving enough time for a vote that evening, in exchange for a day off – the first in nearly two weeks – on Sunday. .

Attempts by Republican lawmakers on Saturday to return the bills to second reading or to committee for third readings were defeated. They spent nearly 10 hours debating the three bills at third reading on Saturday, reiterating many of the same arguments from earlier in the week. GOP lawmakers have stressed that they represent not just their own opposition but that of their constituents, including fighting against insurance coverage for abortions.

“I would like to know why the sponsors of the bill chose abortion to be covered,” said Rep. Brandi Bradley of Littleton. “In Colorado, the top four killers of our voters are cancer, 7,800; heart disease 7,000 people; accidents, 3,000 people; chronic lower respiratory diseases, 2,600 people.

But ultimately, one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, said she’s proud to support legislation that “takes care of my community.”


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