A committee of the state House of Representatives Wednesday heard the latest bill in a long-running series of attempts to ban abortion in Colorado with few exceptions.
Few, if any, minds were changed through hours of testimony, it seemed. Democratic members of the House Committee of Health and Insurance killed the bill on a 7-4 party-line vote.
House Bill 1103, proposed by Reps. Steve Humphrey, R-Eaton, and Lori Saine, R-Dacono, was called the “Protect Human Life At Conception Bill.” It would have made performing an abortion a class 1 felony, except to prevent a mother's death, but only after ‘reasonable’ efforts are made to save both lives.
It also would have excused the accidental death of a unborn child during medical treatment of the mother. No exceptions were made for instances of rape or incest.
Humphrey has proposed the legislation before seven times, to no avail.
Saine said proposing the bill was an honor and quoted a Bible verse: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
The right to life isn’t granted by the government, Humphrey said. It’s inherent.
“Why should science be the basis for determining personhood?” he asked.
But others asked why the faith of some should diminish the personal rights of others.
“It’s not if abortion is right or wrong, it’s if abortion is right or wrong for you,” one man testified.
Dozens testified for and against the bill. The vast majority of those speaking against were women seeking to maintain their right to do as they choose with their own body. Far more men testified on behalf of the bill.
The Rev. Dawn Riley Duval, executive director and co-founder of Soul 2 Soul Sisters, a Denver faith-based and female-led racial justice organization, passionately urged the committee to vote against the bill.
“We have seen bills like this before. Bills attempting to make abortion so expensive or complicated to receive that families, particularly low-income families of color have great difficulty in obtaining medical care,” Duval said.
The decision to have an abortion is serious and intimate and takes place during a time of reflection and deep communication, Duval said. Banning abortion would not be compassionate or just. Nor would it benefit women’s rights to choose what’s best for their body or their lives.
Others argued that a ban wouldn’t stop abortions, it would only stop safe abortions. Desperate pregnant women have always found a way to terminate pregnancies, whether medically safe or not, some bill opponents said.
If the goal is to actually reduce the number of abortions provided in Colorado, then the legislature should invest in comprehensive sex education, increase access to contraceptives and offer more health care to immigrant populations, said witness Claire Leonard.
Dr. Aaron Lazorwitz, an obstetrician-gynecologist, said the bill could have harmed doctor-patient relations, opening medical professionals to warrantless criminal charges.
“If somebody does not agree with your diagnosis, there’s no protections in this bill to say that you as a physician can make that diagnosis and someone can contest it,” he said.
Proponents, however, argued that life begins at conception and should be protected just as a child’s life is protected.
“Life is a gift from God, not a curse,” said witness Cathy Shera.
Shera said that over 42 million abortions were performed worldwide last year. She said that Colorado, aside from New York, has likely the most liberal abortion laws in America, and she also claimed without substantiation that body parts from aborted fetuses are sold for profit.
Another proponent who identified himself as a doctor said a fetus can likely feel pain at 24 weeks. An abortion is akin to cruel and unusual punishment, he said.
One witness, Cody LeBlanc, said he was an abortion survivor and showed the committee a model of a 10-week-old fetus.
“It’s asinine to me that we as a society are condoning abortion," LeBlanc said. "We should be charging them with murder. It is murdering a child. If someone kills a pregnant woman, two lives were lost.”
Prior to the vote, Rep. Sonya Jaquez-Lewis, D-Boulder, said the bill represented an affront to her rights and she noted that Coloradans have voted down similar proposals multiple times.
“It’s an attack on me as a woman,” she said. “The voters of Colorado have spoken and this is not what they want.”
The bill would have forced “a religious opinion on everyone with no regard for the beliefs of others or the health and welfare of women,” said the committee’s chair, Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver. “Women are more than reproductive vessels, more than servants of an authoritarian state.”
Wednesday’s hearing was the fifth time Lontine had heard the bill and hopefully the last, she said.
But Humphrey said he’ll propose the bill every year as long as he’s an elected official.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that women have a right to abortion, but abortion foes are hoping that the court will overturn those rulings, possible after more conservative justices are appointed.