A bill defining life as beginning at conception and banning most abortions in Colorado was killed overwhelmingly by a state legislative committee Tuesday and will not be further considered by the general assembly.
State Rep. Stephen Humphrey (R-Severence) introduced a nearly identical piece of legislation in 2013, and it was easily defeated, but this year state House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) gave the bill more stature by co-sponsoring it early in the legislative session.
DelGrosso’s involvement did not change this year’s outcome, however, as seven Democrats in the state House Judiciary Committee, joined by two Republicans, voted down the bill by a 9-2 margin.
The two Republican members of the judiciary committee, Reps. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) and Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs), stated at a public hearing on the bill Tuesday that they would vote against it because they believe it violates the U.S. Constitution, not necessarily because they don’t agree with it.
Ten Republican members of the Colorado House, including DelGrosso, co-sponsored the legislation, as well as seven state senators, also all Republicans.
Under the legislation, doctors would have faced a class 3 felony and up to 12 years jail time for performing nearly any abortion, even for victims of rape or incest. It also would have banned the use of contraception that is administered after conception and not in accordance with manufacturer instructions. The legislation mirrored “personhood” amendments overwhelmingly defeated by Colorado voters in 2008 and 2010.
“I find it very disappointing that the Republican leadership has bought in to this very fringe, right-wing bill that Colorado has put down many, many times,” Colorado House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) told RH Reality Check. “This is a strong pro-choice state, but I believe the Republicans feel they have to pander to the right wing of their party, to keep their base. They are a small minority but they have a big, noisy voice. That’s the most disappointing thing. We are working on a whole host of issues in Colorado to move the state forward, to do good things for the people of Colorado, and we continually have to fight these old battles that, in my opinion, should be settled.”
“The heart of this bill is the moral conviction and scientific evidence that life begins at conception,” testified Humphrey, the sponsor, explaining that the genetic makeup of a zygote is distinct from any other person anywhere, including the mother.
“Sometimes it’s said, ‘No one knows when life begins,’” Humphrey told the committee, but, in his view, “the unborn is clearly alive from the moment of conception,” and “it’s wrong to intentionally kill an unborn human being.”
Waller objected when the committee chair, Rep. Daniel Kagan (D-Englewood), denied Waller’s request to ask a lawyer representing Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, who was testifying at the hearing on the bill, whether he’d support an amendment to the bill restricting it to banning later abortions only.
Kagan told Waller that his request was outside the scope of the bill, as indicated by the bill’s title, “Concerning Protecting Human Life Beginning at Conception.”
Kagan was not convinced by Waller’s plea that later abortions, allowed through pregnancy under Colorado law, should be included in a discussion about “protecting life” from conception until the end of pregnancy.
In a statement, Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) spotlighted the testimony of Colorado resident Jen Boulten, who told committee members that she might have lost her life if Humphrey’s bill had been law when she had an ectopic pregnancy.
“A bill that would jeopardize a women’s health cannot be our best policy,” Pettersen said in her statement. “Government has no right to interject itself into the private relationship between a woman and her doctor.”
At a press conference prior to the hearing, Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, acknowledged that the abortion ban would almost certainly be voted down by Colorado’s legislature, which is controlled by pro-choice Democrats, but she pointed out that similar anti-choice bills have passed elsewhere in the United States.
“Every single election is an opportunity for policies to change,” she said.