Anti-Abortion Lawmakers Oppose Bill to Provide Diapers for Babies in Need

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling)

A bill to provide diapers to families in need is moving through Colorado’s Senate, but it’s not getting the support you might expect from Republican lawmakers who routinely push legislation that they say is aimed at protecting babies.

In fact, every vote on the legislation thus far has fallen squarely along party lines, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.

The bill, which is sponsored by state Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) and state Reps. Kerry Tipper (D-Lakewood) and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D-Denver), aims to address the rising need for diapers during the pandemic.

Lawmakers were sparked to action by a Denver Post story that documented how desperate families were resorting to unsanitary measures due to financial stress that was exacerbated by the pandemic, including “filling plastic grocery bags with toilet paper and taping them to their babies as makeshift diapers because they are not able to afford essentials.”

According to the National Diaper Bank Network, one in three families struggles to afford clean diapers for their baby, and it estimates that the need for diapers has increased 300% amid the pandemic. Diapers cost around $80 a month per child, and cannot be purchased through public assistance programs like SNAP or WIC.

The legislation, called “Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families,” would provide $4 million in funding to diaper banks over the next two years, helping them meet the increase in need caused by the COVID-19 financial fallout.

So far, no Republicans want it to pass. The bill has been advanced on a party-line vote in two Senate committees so far, with only Democrats, who hold majorities in both houses of the legislature, voting yes.

In an interview with conservative talk radio host John Waters on KFTM’s “Big Morning Show,” state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), who voted against the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee, called it “the most silliest” bill being proposed this session:

Waters: “Every session there are those bills that you just kind of scratch your head and go, what in the world is this all about? So let’s talk about some of the… I’ll call them ‘dumb bills’ that you have working their way through.”

Sonnenberg: “Let’s start with the one that I think is probably the most silliest … and that bill is the one that gives free diapers to everybody through distribution centers in the state of Colorado. So if you need diapers, there’s a bill going through the process that would give out free diapers to everybody. Then I got to thinking, does that include adult diapers? … maybe I shouldn’t be working so hard against this bill, but when it comes right down to it, they probably ought to ship them all to the Capitol because this place is so full of it anyhow it might be helpful up here.”

“I don’t understand where this money comes from,” Sonnenberg continued of the $4 million proposal. “If you start handing out free stuff, you start getting their votes. That’s probably why I haven’t been a very good politician, is because I’m not a big fan of giving free stuff.”

State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer (R-Weld County), the only woman in the Colorado Republican Senate caucus, voted against the bill in the Senate Health and Human Services committee, citing her concern that families who could afford diapers would go get them for free instead.

“There needs to be an income eligibility criteria here and I just don’t see one,” Kirkmeyer said at the March 3 hearing.

“We want to make sure that we are reducing the barriers to distribution,” said Pettersen, who expressed doubt that people who could afford diapers would show up to wait in line at a diaper bank.

“Putting income processes in place would slow down the ability to run this program and it would be overburdensome,” said Morgan Seibel, Executive Director of WeeCycle, which distributes diapers and other baby gear to low-income families.

State Sen. Jim Smallwood (R-Parker), who also sits on the Health and Human Services Committee, also voted no, expressing his view that the bill’s definition of “family member” is not sufficiently stringent, and that “second cousins twice removed” from families with babies in need would go get free diapers.

Ultimately, every Republican member of the Health and Human Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee voted no.

Those same lawmakers voted against legislation earlier this year to improve access to contraceptives for immigrants and to remove barriers to abortion for low-income survivors of sexual assault.

Now, as the bill is debated in the Colorado Senate today, it’s unclear if it will get a single yes vote from Republicans.

“It’s unfortunate and perplexing that the Senate Republican caucus is politicizing a very real need for so many Colorado families,” said Ashley Brink, Board Chair of Women’s Lobby of Colorado, in a statement to CTR. “This should not be political. But when many Republicans claim to value the lives of pregnant people and children as their reasons for pushing dangerous anti-abortion legislation, and refuse to help low-income parents with this bill, it clearly is political. We believe all of our legislators should be seeking to support parents and families by helping provide the resources they need to take care of their children.”

In an attempt to find some pro-baby Republicans who might support a proposal to give diapers to needy babies, I called every Republican lawmaker who sponsored a bill earlier this year to ban all abortion in Colorado, the Life at Conception Act. State Reps. Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock), Kim Ransom (R-Douglas County), Shane Sandridge (R-Colorado Springs), Kevin Van Winkle (R-Highlands Ranch), and Dave Williams (R-Colorado Springs) did not return my calls.

“If I could do one thing as a legislator it would be to protect our unborn children,” said Neville as lawmakers debated the bill in March.

I also called state Rep. Stephanie Luck (R-Penrose), who earlier this year sponsored a bill to create an abortion registry with detailed information about people who get abortions in Colorado. No response.

The GOP’s opposition to diaper funding comes as the party attempts to rebrand itself in Colorado following a historic streak of election losses.

Party leaders have suggested that part of that rebranding means running different kinds of candidates – namely, women – and focusing on issues that appeal to suburban moms.

In an interview with Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner this week, recently elected Colorado Republican Party leader Kristi Burton Brown, who got her start in politics by sponsoring an initiative to ban all abortion in the state, emphasized the new face of the party and her goal of appealing to women voters.

“We won a historic moment for Republicans in Colorado with the victory of myself, Priscilla [Rahn] and Marilyn [Harris], to lead our Republican party,” Brown said. “It is the first time in Colorado history that an all-woman team has ever been elected to lead either major party. So we are creating history and we’re going to continue to do that as we brand the Republican party in Colorado.”

“It is going to be a Colorado-focused year, Colorado-centric issues and true leadership in Colorado, centered on our jobs, our kids, the American dream,” Brown continued. “What does that look like? And who are our candidates who can best promote the message that the people of Colorado and many suburban moms like me, that’s a big chunk of our unaffiliated voters in Colorado, what they want to hear about and talk about.”

Brown did not return a call seeking to know whether she supports the bill to fund diaper banks and whether she thinks it’s the kind of policy that appeals to the mothers and other suburban women that she hopes to bring into the party.

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13 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    Seems to be another example of how the far right wing, anti-abortion & anti-contraception, religious zealots at the Legislature don’t care about kids already born.

    On the other hand, the bill seems to be poorly written. Having an income eligibility provision makes sense. The National Network’s stats that 1 in 3 babies need funding help for diapers also seems far-fetched (I did read the so-called facts).

    • notaskinnycook says:

      You mean this, Banger?

       In a 2004 interview with Bill Moyers, Sister Joan Chittister says: "I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is."

      • Conserv. Head Banger says:

        That’s one common sense response. Then, as I’ve posted in the past, there’s the comment from one of the founders of the modern conservative movement, the late Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ).

        “(abortion) it’s not a conservative issue. It’s a matter between a woman and her doctor.” There’s an actually introduced bill; or a bill being thought of this year; and I forget which state; that a rape victim must get permission from the father (rapist) in order to obtain an abortion. Really?

  2. Sparky says:

    The "pro-family" party, eh?

  3. Voyageur says:

    I gotta ask.  Why would the pandemic increase the need for diapers 300 percent?   The birth rate hasn’t tripled.

    The Washington Post said the National Diaper Network saw a 67 percent jump in demand, mainly because so many people lost jobs. I can believe that, but it ‘s not close to a 300 percent jump.

    • Conserv. Head Banger says:

      That's why I think the National Diaper Bank Network is somewhat lacking in credibility. Help the people who actually need the help and don't just throw money out the door.

      • JohnInDenver says:

        I’d think about income assessment — as soon as it is applied to tax rebate plans for corporations, too.  Help the [corporate] people who actually need the help and don’t just throw money out the door.  Same thing with all of the tax breaks for those of a particular age — make us show we “need” the money.

        Also, parents with kids have some of the least stable incomes, so what sort of “income test” would you use? 

         * Last year’s tax filing? Nothing changes in family finances with the birth of a new child, right?  

         * Last W-2 statement? All those 20 somethings paid for the last two weeks will show the same amounts in the next two weeks?

         * Are all those tipped employees going to get the same tips next week? Will artists and other creative types make the same sales? 

        And of course, all those new parents no doubt have the resources to cover unexpected expenses, too.

        If Colorado can spend $5 million for wolf introduction expenses, seems like $2 million for diaper supply might be able to be squeezed out somewhere.

         

    • Old Time Dem says:

      The need for the Network's service has increased by up to 300% in some areas. That does not mean that, overall, the need for diapers has increased by 300%.

  4. kwtree says:

    Jeffco Dems sponsored a diaper drive at the Action Center yesterday. In attendance were several legislators and candidates, including Senator Brittany Pettersen, Reps. Kerry Tipper and Jessie Danielson, and Council candidate Tom Keefe.

    I've donated diapers to the Action Center myself. Hundreds of families need these and other basic supplies every day. To answer comments above: Why would the need for publicly funded diapers go up in a pandemic? Um, because people are out of work and getting evicted? Need stayed the same while income went down? Because a third of working mothers quit work to care for kids now schooling from home?

    Only people who have never had to struggle with these realities can dismiss providing diapers to babies as "wasteful spending". It's an issue I contend with as a grandmother of two in diapers.

    My only quibble with the diaper bill is that it should also cover diaper services, which are kinder to the environment and to tender bottoms.

    • Voyageur says:

      The question is not whether demand goes up.  The question is how much.  Bill backers claimed a 300 percent jump, and provided no evidence for it.  The Washington Post cited a more believable 67 percent jump.

      Are babies really pooping three times as much during the pandemic?

      Or could it be the sponsors who are full of, uhh, hyperbole?

  5. ajb says:

    Twenty years ago, when we last had kids in diapirs, we mostly used cloth diapirs (at home, at least) and washed them ourselves to save money. It's not rocket surgery. Now it seems everbody is content to throw all that baby poo into landfills. Oh, and get off my lawn!

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