Colorado lawmakers are debating The Reproductive Health Equity Act, a piece of legislation which would codify Colorado’s place as one of the most permissive states in the U.S. when it comes to abortion. 

Pro-lifers rallied against the bill March 12 at the Colorado capitol in downtown Denver. The Archdiocese of Denver has encouraged all Coloradans to pray and speak out against the bill. 

What exactly is in this bill, and what are the potential consequences if it becomes law? Here’s what you need to know:

The bill explicitly denies any rights to unborn children. 

Some states, such as Arizona, have passed legislation to clarify that unborn children are entitled to the same civil rights as born persons. Colorado’s bill does the opposite, stipulating that: “[A] fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of the state.” 

The bill is designed to outlaw government interference in “reproductive healthcare,” including abortion. 

The RHEA, HB22-1279, would affirm a “fundamental right” for a person to “use or refuse contraception;” and also that “every pregnant individual has a fundamental right to continue the pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion.” 

The language of the bill would codify a right to abortion for the full 40 weeks of pregnancy, for any reason, the Colorado Catholic Conference has warned. 

Colorado is already a regional hub for abortion— this bill would solidify that. 

More in US

Unfortunately, Colorado does little to restrict abortion currently. In fact, the RHEA would not immediately do much to change the availability of abortion in Colorado…it’s already very easy to access. 

Colorado was the first state in the nation to decriminalize abortion. The initial legislation, signed into law in 1967, allowed abortion in certain limited cases: rape, incest, or a prediction of permanent mental or physical disability of either the child or mother. Six years later, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade declared abortion a constitutional right nationwide.

There is no gestational limit written into Colorado law, making Colorado one of just a few states where abortion is available until birth. 

Pro-life Coloradans have certainly made their voices heard when anti-abortion legislation comes up in Colorado, but it has not been enough to turn the tide. A proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases where a mother's life is threatened, failed in 2020.

In 2019, the last year that data from the CDC was available, more than 170 babies were aborted after 21 weeks gestation in Colorado. Dilation and evacuation abortions are typically used in the second trimester of pregnancy, and result in the crushing of the head and eventual dismemberment of an unborn child.

There is also no waiting period for an abortion in Colorado, and no residency requirement. And although the state requires minors seeking abortions to inform one parent in writing 48 hours prior, parents can’t legally stop their child from getting the abortion.

Since abortion is not currently restricted in Colorado, abortion discrimination based on categories such as sex, race, or disability can take place. The Catholic Conference has warned that the RHEA would continue to permit those kinds of abortions. 

(Story continues below)

No discussion of abortions based on disability in Colorado would be complete without mentioning Warren Hern, an abortionist who has been active in Boulder, Colorado since 1975, and publicly accepts patients seeking late-term abortions from anywhere in the world. 

Self-reported statistics show that Hern's clinic performed hundreds of abortions between 1992-2012 on women who were at or past 24 weeks pregnant, including several performed on women between 38 and 39 weeks gestation. Nearly 240 of those late-term abortions were performed on babies with Down syndrome.

If Colorado already allows abortion up to birth, why is this particular bill such a concern?

It would ink into law one of the most permissive abortion laws in the entire country, further lending legitimacy and legal protection to the state’s late-term abortionists. 

It would also solidify Colorado as a regional abortion hub, and would prevent pro-life local lawmakers in Colorado from ever restricting abortion in their cities or counties. Although the law could be repealed in the future, Colorado’s current status as a primarily Democratic-led state would make that an uphill battle. 

There are other reasons this bill is concerning, pro-life advocates say. If the bill passes, a state court could rule against Colorado’s requirement, passed in 2003, that parents of minors be notified 48 hours before an abortion procedure. Pro-lifers have asked for an amendment to the bill clarifying that it was not intended to remove the state’s parental notification requirement, but no such amendment has been adopted. 

Why this bill, and why now?

Because pro-choice Colorado lawmakers believe that federal abortion protections could be threatened in the near future. 

The bill’s sponsors cited the upcoming decision from the US Supreme Court in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, whereby the Supreme Court is considering whether Mississippi’s 15-week abortion law is constitutional. Observers say the court’s ruling the case could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that currently prevents states from prohibiting abortion until roughly 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

At least a dozen states across the country have “trigger laws” on the books to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Again, Colorado is now seeking to do the opposite, and remove any ambiguity about the legality of abortion in the state if the protection at the federal level is removed. 

In addition, the bill’s sponsors have said they want to avoid a “piecemeal” approach to abortion restrictions within Colorado if Roe v. Wade is overturned, preemptively disallowing individual cities or counties from imposing restrictions on abortion. 

The bill has become one of the most controversial bills in Colorado’s modern history. But it’s likely to pass. 

On March 14, the Colorado House of Representatives passed the bill by a ​​40-24 vote, sending it to the Senate. All the votes in favor came from Democrats, and all those opposed from Republicans. 

Public engagement with the RHEA began in earnest on March 9, when a public hearing was held on the bill which attracted hundreds of people who voiced their opposition. The committee chairwoman bucked the usual protocol of alternating between witnesses opposed and witnesses against, instead allowing all the witnesses testifying in favor of the bill to speak first, relegating those opposed to the bill to the later hours of the evening. 

The March 9 hearing did not wrap up until 4 am the next day, clocking in at nearly 14 hours long; the bill passed that committee by a 7-4, party-line vote. 

But that hearing was brief in comparison to the next one, before the full House, which ran for 23 hours— the longest such hearing in at least 25 years of Colorado history. 

Democrats hold substantial majorities in both houses of Colorado’s legislature. A number of Senate Democrats have already added their names to the bill, such that it is almost certain to make it to the desk of Governor Jared Polis. Polis, also a Democrat, has reportedly indicated support for the bill and will likely sign it into law, the Denver Post reported. 
The bill would change state law, not the state constitution. 

As mentioned above, the RHEA could be repealed in the future. However, the bill’s sponsors are considering a 2024 ballot measure that would put a constitutional amendment before Colorado voters enshrining the change— and amendments are much more difficult to repeal. 

I don’t live in Colorado. Why should I care?

There are many reasons why you should care, not least of which is Colorado’s regional influence when it comes to abortion. 

Abortion providers in Colorado have positioned themselves as a hub for women seeking abortions, particularly women who live in states that have or plan to impose restrictions on abortion. Several of Colorado’s immediate neighbors, including Utah, Arizona, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, have significant abortion restrictions in place that will take effect when or if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

In recent years, a significant number of women have traveled to Colorado from Texas to obtain abortions. Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains has a prominent banner on their homepage welcoming women traveling from Texas to obtain abortions. And although New Mexico is closer to Texas, Colorado has three times as many abortion clinics as does New Mexico. 

If Colorado status as an abortion destination state is solidified, the influx of women seeking abortions from other states— including late-term abortions and those done for discriminatory reasons—  will only continue.