Colorado Lawmakers Introduce An Ambitious Bill To Protect Reproductive Rights

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

On Thursday, a committee of Colorado lawmakers will hold a hearing on Senate Bill 175, or the “Reproductive Health Freedom Act.” It’s a proactive piece of legislation that would safeguard women’s reproductive health decisions, and ensure that anti-choice politicians aren’t allowed to chip away at them.

SB 175 guarantees every Colorado resident the opportunity to make their own decisions regarding abortion and contraception. It enshrines women’s fundamental right to privacy and freedom about their health care choices, strengthening the precedent that was established under Roe v. Wade. And, perhaps most importantly, it explicitly prevents state lawmakers from enacting restrictions in this area that aren’t based on scientific evidence.

“The bill prohibits a state or local policy that denies or interferes with an individual’s reproductive health care decisions or a state or local policy regarding reproductive health care that is inconsistent with, or that denies or interferes with access to information based on, current evidence-based scientific data and medical consensus,” the legislation stipulates.

Although Roe is technically still the law of the land, state lawmakers have successfully undermined women’s reproductive rights by enacting medically unnecessary barriers to abortion services. These restrictions are intended to attack abortion access from all angles, typically cloaked in the language of “women’s health and safety.” States across the country have imposed forced ultrasound requirements, mandatory waiting periods, restrictions on the administration of the abortion pill, and burdensome clinic regulations.

But if SB 175 is approved, that anti-choice strategy won’t be able to advance in Colorado.

“This bill is all about sound health care policy,” Karen Middleton, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, told ThinkProgress in an email exchange. “Colorado voters have said over and over that they believe women have the right to make their own health care decisions. We need to protect that right and ensure government doesn’t get in between women and their doctors.”

Colorado has historically been supportive of reproductive rights. It was the first state to liberalize its abortion laws in 1967, six years before Roe was decided. Since then, voters have repeatedly rejected ballot initiatives attempting to roll back abortion access. And last year, the state formalized its support for women’s right to choose by repealing its outdated ban on abortion, an old state policy that pre-dated Roe.

On the federal level, a group of pro-choice senators unveiled proactive legislation this past fall that’s very similar to SB 175. The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013, a rare piece of national legislation seeking to expand reproductive rights, would prevent states from continuing to enact burdensome regulations on abortion — setting the stage for a future constitutional challenge to overturn the restrictive state laws that are already in place.

Attacks on reproductive rights have certainly continued in 2014. By the Guttmacher Institute’s count, states have already introduced over 300 provisions seeking to limit women’s access to abortion care. But there’s also an emerging push to enact proactive pro-choice legislation. States like Vermont, California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are all attempting to take steps forward to protect abortion rights.

“Legislators quickly showed a clear interest in protecting or expanding access to sexual and reproductive health care. Some 64 provisions have been introduced so far this year to expand or protect access to abortion, more than had been introduced in any year in the last quarter century,” Guttmacher researchers note in their latest report on state legislative activity.