On Monday, Colorado averted a South Dakota-like fate when the most restrictionist abortion bill introduced in recent memory was killed on a party-line vote in the state Senate.
Senate Bill 143, the "abortion ban," would have outlawed the practice nearly completely, designating abortion a Class 3 felony. There were no exceptions for rape or incest; only a woman whose life was in danger would be permitted to receive an abortion.
As the first all-out ban floated in the Colorado Legislature, SB 143 differed from other "targeted" abortion measures introduced this year. One failed bill by Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, would have made fetal death during an attack against a pregnant woman a Class 1 felony. Pro-choice critics say that measures that differentiate a mother from the fetus inside her pave the way for anti-abortion, "unborn rights" legislation.
"In reality, I don't think many people expected [SB 143] to pass," says Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, the bill's House sponsor. (The bill was written by Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.) "You can never tell."
Lambert's and others' anti-abortion attempts at the Democrat-controlled Capitol have some pro-choice advocates contending that the measures are merely symbolic attempts to appease conservative voters.
"When legislators introduce [anti-choice bills] knowing they don't have the votes, that is usually a way of talking to those constituents about keeping those issues alive and in the media," says Crystal Clinkenbeard, the former public affairs coordinator for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
"You see anti-choice extremists becoming more desperate [without a Republican majority]. Often, you know, anti-choice legislation is introduced that does not include exceptions for rape or incest. It's a way to placate their audiences."
Though the Renfroe-Lambert bill was the first of its kind in the state, it was nearly identical to a South Dakota abortion ban passed a year ago and subsequently overturned by voters in November. And it fits into a long history of anti-abortion legislation at the State House; over the past seven years, at least 17 bills have been introduced, many of them by Schultheis.
Several proposals sought to make abortion clinics licensed through the state. Another, promoted by now-U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, looked to prohibit the abortion of "unborn viable" children that is, fetuses that could ostensibly live outside of the mother's body. Others mandated that abortion providers give women state-generated information on abortion and then force them to wait a certain amount of time to go through with the procedure. One demanded a minor's parental consent for an abortion. (Colorado law requires only parental notification.) Last year, legislators sought to amend the constitution by redefining "pregnancy" as the time period between fertilization and birth. But that measure was never put to voters.
All of the above bills, and much of the proposed legislation in total, failed. Since 2000, abortion law in Colorado has been tweaked only slightly; one significant change prohibited the sale of aborted fetuses.
But there were still big losses for the pro-choice community, mainly in the form of major budget cuts to family planning programs. Former Gov. Bill Owens twice vetoed a bill that would have increased access to emergency contraception. Earlier this week a similar bill, SB 60, passed. The measure mandates that health care providers inform rape victims about emergency contraception. Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to sign it into law sometime in the next several days.
Still, the pro-choice community won't let its guard down.
"Even as symbolic bills, [those like SB 143] are still huge threats to women's health," says Clinkenbeard.
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