Top Ten Stories of 2022 #9: Temporary Relief For Abortion Rights

Colorado GOP chair and lifelong anti-abortion activist Kristi Burton Brown.

Just one of several convergent storylines around the issue of abortion rights that we’ll be discussing in our ongoing recap of the top stories in Colorado politics for 2022 is the legislation passed this year by the Colorado General Assembly expressly codifying abortion rights into statute. This legislation was forced by the widely-expected and since-fulfilled promise kept by the new 6-3 right-wing U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed abortion rights nationwide for decades.

As the Denver Post’s Alex Burness reported in March, the minority Republican caucus in the Colorado House employed every obstructionist parliamentary trick in the book to slow the inevitable passage of the Reproductive Health Equity Act to a crawl:

Colorado Republicans cannot stop the Democrats from passing a bill codifying the right to abortion in state law.

But they can sure stretch it out.

A debate in the House of Representatives on HB22-1279, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, began at 10:53 a.m. Friday and concluded with a preliminary voice vote at 10:18 a.m. Saturday. After that vote the House Democrats moved to kill some final, unsuccessful GOP amendment proposals, before lawmakers and Capitol staff could leave the building at last.

Roughly one full day in length, this is thought to have been the longest debate in this Capitol in at least 25 years.

Despite dogged Republican resistance in the House that extended the debate over RHEA all night Friday and well into the following Saturday morning, the hard-right faction of the GOP caucus nonetheless raged that then-Minority Leader Hugh McKean wasn’t doing enough to obstruct passage of the bill–at one point reportedly having an off-camera belly-bumping incident with fellow Republican Rep. Shane Sandridge. But as the old saying goes, the minority gets their say and the majority in the end gets their way. In the end the bill passed like it was always going to, and the Republican resistance to passing RHEA only further alienated Republicans from voters energized by the issue following Roe’s repeal later last year.

The imperilment of abortion rights by the U.S. Supreme Court by repealing Roe v. Wade has been a central plank in the Republican Party’s platform for so long that there was no real way for Republicans to maneuver around the issue, as Colorado’s “personally very pro life” U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea discovered when he tried and spectacularly failed to muddy up the issue enough to nullify it Cory Gardner style. But O’Dea’s feints on abortion never squared with the explicit position of outgoing Colorado Republican Party chair and lifetime anti-abortion zealot Kristi Burton Brown. Gubernatorial candidate Hiedi Heidi Ganahl assailed Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act and vowed to repeal it. O’Dea also slammed RHEA during and after the primary as “too extreme,” part of his ill-fated attempt to anoint himself as the candidate who “brings balance to women’s rights.”

As we know now and will explore further as we get into O’Dea’s race in detail, Colorado Republicans like their national counterparts catastrophically misread the mood of voters following the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Voters were not interested in hearing why Colorado’s abortion rights bill was “too extreme,” they wanted to punish Republicans who put abortion rights in danger to begin with. It’s not like Kristi Burton Brown could have concealed her glee over the Supreme Court’s decision, but the fierce (not to mention dreadfully factually challenged) opposition to Colorado’s abortion rights bill set our local Republicans up to take the full wrath of voters who have rejected abortion bans over and over.

Although RHEA is now statute in Colorado, the fight isn’t over here to ensure that reproductive rights are not a single election away from being under direct threat in a post-Roe America. The same rights protected in RHEA should next become constitutional protections via a statewide vote–and unlike Republican ballot measure campaigns to ban abortion, it won’t be a measure that burns its supporters politically.

Abortion has never been a winning issue for Colorado Republicans, and now that they’ve gotten what they’ve always wanted in Roe’s repeal, they only have more to lose.

3 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Gilpin Guy says:

    Absolutely think it a statewide vote will take place in 2024.  Body autonomy is a right that Republicans don’t like unless it requires wearing a surgical mask.

  2. JohnInDenver says:

    If I got to be the strategist on developing an amendment for RHEA, I'd let Republicans do whatever they can to "weaponize" the issue for the 2024 cycle (and I think some portions of the Republican bird still think abortion restrictions are ABSOLUTELY the way to energize their base). 

    At the end of 2022, the next cycle's US Senate Class had 34 senator seats — 20 Democrats, three Independents (in the Democratic Conference), and 11 Republicans. Putting Roe v Wade language into law will help Democrats make it ABSOLUTELY clear which Senators stand with women and reproductive choice, and which do not. 

    Once that election is done, put a Constitutional Amendment before the people for the 2026 cycle, when Colorado executive offices and a US Senate seat will be on the ballot.

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