By Anna Maria Basquez
DENVER (CBS4)– Republican Senator Jim Smallwood was among legislators speaking at the start of a 14-hour debate on the Senate floor Tuesday about HB1279, titled the Reproductive Health Equity Act. During his plea in opposition to the bill, the Senate gallery was full and silent as he was asking for any give.
“I asked for middle ground to be offered by the majority, particularly around the topics of codifying ‘day of delivery’ abortions, and the absence of language including parental notification,” Sen. Smallwood said. He didn’t get middle ground relating to either, he said. “Virtually my entire day was spent emphasizing those two points.”
He said the bill’s presentation he thought was a move in the wake of talk Roe V. Wade could be repealed this year, in order to keep abortion in the state. Opponents like Colorado Catholic Conference have stated the bill would make Colorado the most extreme abortion state in the country.
“I don’t have the votes,” to defeat the bill, Sen. Smallwood said on the Senate floor. He expressed his defeat at the feeling both sides of the aisle could work together on the bill. About 25 pro-life advocates held signs outside the Capitol as legislators drove in and were told by Capitol security staff they were blocking a crosswalk with faded lines though they said no parties had expressed difficulty getting through the area.
The Colorado Senate passed the bill on party lines after 14 hours of debate at 11 p.m. Tuesday, March 22. Legislators presented amendments attempting to add required parental notifications, none of which were passed.
The bill will go to Gov. Jared Polis and legislators said he has indicated he will sign it.
Sen. Julie Gonzales, the prime sponsor, stated she was glad her sisters, two of whom she said opted for abortion, had the freedom to decide.
The House debated the bill for the longest filibuster in Colorado legislative history, starting 11 a.m. March 11 to 11 a.m. on March 12, a full 24 hours.
On March 12, a rally against the bill also gathered on the front steps numbering hundreds against the bill with a small group of counter-protestors.
Teresa Zoltanski, a retired attorney, was among the those testifying against the bill in the House and the Senate testimony. She said she read the entire bill again as she was waiting to testify against it to the Senate. She said she felt that as a pro-life Democrat, the legislature still isn’t representing her or the many pro-life Democrats.
“Coloradoans do not want HB22-1279 (RHEA) because it goes too far, and at least half are pro-life,” she stated to the Senate Committee in person on a snow day March 18. “RHEA goes too far, because it allows abortion, for any reason, at any time, by anyone, anywhere in Colorado. Most Coloradoans do not want unlimited-on-demand abortion, for everyone, not matter what the circumstances, no matter who is involved, even minors, and no matter why. If you believe they do, then please defer and refer RHEA to the voters.”
She cited a 2021 Gallup poll during her testimony she said shows 26% of Democrats identify as “pro-life,” up from 24% in 2020.
As the bill stands now with no other bill passed yet addressing notification of parents, though proposed bill HB22-1236 is said to, she said, “The plain language of the abortion bill gives minors (usually teenage girls, under the age of 18) the right to have unlimited access to abortions, without any parental notice.”
She also said no other entity like a school can now contact parents to notify them of a teen’s intent on abortion. HB1236 is a Republican-sponsored bill on the issue of placing parental notification requirements to go for abortions.
HB1236, called the Parent’s Bill of Rights, would “prohibit an individual, corporation, association, organization, state-supported institution, or individual employed by any of these entities from procuring, soliciting to perform, arranging for the performance of, or performing a surgical procedure upon a minor without written or verbal consent from the minor’s parent,” according to the Colorado General Assembly website.
With no Democrats signing onto the bill, opponents of RHEA say it’s not likely to survive House Committee.
Proponents of the bill said this week in a statement: “The Reproductive Health Equity Act will ensure every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception; every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right to choose to continue a pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion; and a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of Colorado.”
“Senator Julie Gonzales has been an absolute champion for RHEA, and we are in deep appreciation and gratitude for her work, as well as the many hours and late nights from our House sponsors,” Dusti Gurule, president of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), said this week in a statement. “Passing the Reproductive Health Equity Act is a historic, proactive step in protecting the ability of all Coloradans to access to the reproductive healthcare they need and deserve, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, religious affiliation, or income.”