//The Cobalt team met at their office on Jan. 14. From Left to right: Strategic Communications Director Jaki Lawrence, Director of Strategic Partnership Dani Newsum, President Karen Middleton, and Political Director Selina Najar. Photo by Polina Saran | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawmakers acted quickly, as Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver, Rep. Meg Froelich of Greenwood Village and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo announced their sponsorship of the Reproductive Health Equity Act, also referred to as the RHEA. The proposed bill will be offered in the 2022 legislative session, which began Jan. 12. The act is also supported by the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, or COLOR, and Cobalt.
The bill ensures access to contraceptives and abortions by codifying protections for the full range of reproductive healthcare into state law.
“One of the reasons for this bill, and why this bill right now, is that we have an incredibly hostile Supreme Court,” said Jaki Lawrence, strategic communications director at Cobalt. “We know that it’s incredibly likely they will overturn Roe v. Wade, and that means abortion rights will be left up to each individual state. We, last year, saw over 600 anti-abortion laws introduced—over 100 were passed—so it’s clear that our opponents are, if nothing else, picking up speed.”
Texas passed Senate Bill-8 in September 2021, banning abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. Then, on Dec. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments reviewing Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks, with the potential to overturn nationwide abortion protections provided through the Roe v. Wade ruling.
Colorado plays an incredibly important role in the region, as many surrounding states have abortion trigger bans, meaning that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion would automatically be outlawed.
After Kavanaugh was confirmed, a large number of anti-choice bills were allowed to go into effect by the Supreme Court. Leading up to Sept. 1, 2021, Cobalt President Karen Middleton said they knew that SB-8 was coming about a month ahead of time and began explicitly reaching out to healthcare providers, identifying which ones could take on more capacity and ensuring state providers were aware of the situation. Sure enough, clinics in Colorado saw a 520% increase in people coming from Texas in the months following the ruling.
Since RHEA was announced, COLOR and Cobalt have been hard at work, garnering support from a wide range of partner organizations, many that often don’t take a stance on reproductive healthcare and abortion access. There were also up to 39 co-sponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate at the time of writing, according to COLOR Policy Director Katherine Riley.
“Even though the bill hasn’t been introduced [in the 2022 legislative session], there’s a lot of work leading up to make sure that RHEA has the support that it needs to pass swiftly and show Colorado voters that their members are behind them,” Riley said.
Both COLOR and Cobalt staff expressed their optimism surrounding RHEA’s progress so far, recognizing that this year looks different than those that came before.
“What I love is that COLOR ran a bill last year—not thinking it was going to be passed in the first year—and it successfully passed,” Middleton said. “I think they really paved the way for pushing this, and we’re doing it differently, very early in the session. Moving forward, I am more confident than I have been in years about seeing a very strong, forward-facing state policy of passing this year.”
COLOR Communications and Policy Manager Aurea Bolaños Perea said 2021 was the worst year for accessing abortion care, and part of moving forward is recognizing the impact legislation from last year will have in the future.
In doing so, it means centering the wellbeing of Colorado communities of color, LGBTQ+ folks and immigrants, understanding that they will be the most impacted by stringent reproductive laws and abortion bans. It’s an accessibility issue, Riley noted, as people with economic means will always be able to access abortion care.
There are also considerations surrounding transportation, time off work, childcare during recovery and more that are often not addressed when talking about abortion access.
“We see folks with privilege able to get what they want when they want it. Especially for the work that we do at COLOR, when we lift up the most marginalized, then everyone else around us is also lifted. So we have to keep those communities at the center of what we do all the time,” Riley said.
Bolaños Perea noted the phrase “reproductive justice,” the ideal of body autonomy, equity and community access to care that best fits their needs, referencing the false notion that this is already the reality for all Coloradans.
“We know that for our communities of color, and a lot of folks in our community that are marginalized, that isn’t true,” she said. “They can’t necessarily have access to what they wish they could, and it is those people that we keep at the forefront of our work, right? We’re trying to bring justice to them.”
Roe was just one step of the movement, not the end goal, she said. As time has pressed forward, Bolaños Perea said folks seeking abortions often get minimized to a statistic, but the people at COLOR and Cobalt can put faces to those numbers and know their stories.
“[Anti-abortion legislators] knew exactly who this was going to impact, right?” she said. “Because we know who is going to be impacted personally, this is a personal fight.”
Staff from both organizations said the best way to support the movement in Colorado is by engaging in and elevating the grassroots movements already in place. Middleton addressed the initial response surrounding the 2021 legislation, with folks asking if there is a need to create a new network to address these issues. She said the network is already here, people just need to further elevate it, listen and respond to those doing the work.
“We’re not doing this alone, and we shouldn’t be doing this work alone. We need our community there,” Bolaños Perea said.
Historically, Colorado has also shown a strong voter turnout and presence surrounding abortion rights issues. Lawrence noted that since 2008, Colorado has knocked back 45 attempts to restrict abortion, through the legislature or on the ballot. When Proposition 115 was on the ballot in 2020, it received more “no” votes than President Joe Biden or Sen. John Hickenlooper received to elect them to their respective positions.
“It’s something that really reminds us that this is the moment; this is the moment for RHEA because we had that affirmation one more time,” Lawrence said. “We had a nice break, no ballot measure between ‘14 and ‘20, and then they came back and thought they were gonna run this right through, and guess what? Nope.”
Colorado was uniquely the first state in the nation to decriminalize abortion back in 1967 and, despite party lines, has consistently seen broad support for keeping reproductive healthcare out of government control. While not all other states have that same advantage, COLOR and Cobalt staff agreed now is no time to stand down.
“We just cannot be on the sidelines when it comes to abortion access, liberating abortion,” Bolaños Perea said. “No, this may be the last Roe anniversary; there are over 90 restriction bans going throughout the country. The time is now.”
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