More than seven months have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, but this is the first chance Colorado lawmakers have had to work on legislation in its aftermath.
Last year, the Colorado Legislature passed the “Reproductive Health Equity Act,” guaranteeing the right to abortions in state law. But lawmakers say that was just the first step, and just because residents have the right to get abortions doesn’t mean they have the access.
That’s why the Colorado Democratic Women’s Caucus — made up of a historic number of women and people of diverse backgrounds — made a package of three abortion bills one of its policy priorities for 2023. The bills have a high likelihood of passing with a Democratic-controlled statehouse, and caucus co-chair Rep. Lisa Cutter noted that the caucus passed all of its priorities last year.
The state General Assembly only meets from January-May each year and the U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs v. Women’s Organization decision was released in June, so Colorado lawmakers have looked to laws passed in other states that have full-time legislatures and advice from advocacy groups.
“I think the question is, ‘how do we build something better than Roe? How do we move beyond legal and into a place where health care is accessible and affordable for all people?’” said Jack Teter, policy director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
This package of bills will address the changing landscape across the U.S. and the “unique and nefarious actions” in surrounding states, said Meg Froelich, a Greenwood Village Democrat.
“It’s a moving target,” she said. “It’s much more complicated. You’re really addressing what true access means and there were so many barriers in existence even before Roe fell.”
The women’s caucus has identified four priorities for legislation in 2023: three bills related to safe access for protected health care, including abortions; a bill to guarantee a fair workweek, or predictable schedules for employees; a bill to strengthen the state’s 2019 Equal Pay Act; and a bill to require informed consent for intimate medical exams.
Part of the criteria for choosing these bills includes improving the lives of women and families and making advancements for women and families of color as well as trans women and those of other intersectionalities, said co-chair Rep. Naquetta Ricks, an Aurora Democrat.
Abortion and gender-affirming care rights
After increasing abortion restrictions and bans across the country, a flood of patients have come to Colorado from other states. But patients and medical professionals worry about legal consequences as other states try to punish those who seek or assist in getting abortions.
Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order in July saying Colorado won’t cooperate with other states’ abortion investigations, and now lawmakers want to codify that for providers and patients of abortions, other reproductive care and gender-affirming care.
Karen Middleton, executive director of Cobalt, said the reproductive rights group has received reports of doctors in Colorado getting called by doctors in Texas threatening to report them because a patient had mentioned they’d provided them with an abortion. The proposed bill would protect the privacy of both the doctors and their patients from potential lawsuits and criminal charges.
“We’re seeing more legislation like what we passed last year and more of a push to actions in some states, and we’ll continue to see outrageous bills in states that already have no access to abortion,” Middleton said.
Another bill would require commercial insurers to cover abortions, sexually transmitted infections treatment and ongoing monitoring for HIV prevention. It would also expand the state reproductive health care program to cover family planning services for people who are undocumented and allow Medicaid to reimburse for transportation services for abortion as it does for other health services.
It’s not a fundamental right if only certain people can afford it, said one of the bill’s sponsors, Democratic Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet of Commerce City.
The third bill in the package, spearheaded by the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, seeks to regulate crisis pregnancy centers, often faith-based facilities that provide counseling and limited ultrasounds while attempting to steer women away from abortions. Critics argue that the facilities use deceptive advertising to attract women and families.
The proposal seeks to bar the facilities from using these practices and crack down on abortion-pill reversal — a controversial and unproven treatment that purports to halt a medication-induced abortion.
Lawmakers expect to unveil the package of bills later this month.
Despite the legislature’s makeup, Republicans have introduced bills attempting to ban abortion, require medical providers to give patients information about abortion pill reversal and require abortion providers to administer pain killers to “an unborn child.”
Informed consent for intimate exams
Lawmakers have viewed access to abortion as a choice patients should be able to make for their own bodies, and on that same principle, the women’s caucus has made House Bill 23-1077 another priority.
The bill would require a patient’s consent before a medical professional could perform an intimate exam and would require consent for students or trainees to be present during such exams, including pelvic, rectal, prostate and breast exams.
“Our bodies are extremely personal and so we want to ensure that consent extends beyond when a patient is able to give to consent as well as when they’re under anesthesia,” said Rep. Jenny Willford, a Northglenn Democrat and sponsor.
The caucus is also supporting House Bill 23-1118, “Fair Workweek employment standards,” which is scheduled for its first hearing Feb. 16.
This legislation aims to give employees, particularly in the food and beverage sectors, more predictability with work schedules. That includes providing schedules with two weeks advanced notice, 12 hour minimums between shifts and “predictability” pay if employees’ schedules change abruptly.
Equal pay for equal work
The caucus is also backing Senate Bill 23-105, aimed at strengthening the 2019 Equal Pay Act — ensuring women get paid the same as men for the same work.
This bill would give the Department of Labor the authority to investigate claims, increase the number of years women could receive backpay for being underpaid from three to six and clarify some language about job postings.
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