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Gov. Polis signs bill aiming to protect abortion access in Colorado

 Gov. Polis hands out commemorative pens at the signing ceremony for the Reproductive Health Equity Act on Monday.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
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Gov. Polis hands out commemorative pens at the signing ceremony for the Reproductive Health Equity Act on Monday.

Gov. Jared Polis has signed a bill he s aid will protect access to abortions in Colorado as several other states move in the opposite direction.

"Colorado has been, is and will be a pro-choice state," Polis said at the governor's mansion before he signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act in front of a large crowd of lawmakers. "We do not imprison or jail doctors or women who choose to take control of their own reproductive health."

Democrats passed the measure in response to several conservative-led states adopti ng abortion restrictions.

Polis said Colorado also needs the new law because federal protections for the procedure may end soon.

"Roe vs. Wade has been weakened, and many legal pundits conclude that it's likely a matter of time until the federal protections at the Supreme Court simply cease to exist," he said. "We in Colorado simply don't want to take that risk. We want to act proactively to protect the rights that women already have."

Polis added that no matter what decision the Supreme Court makes, "people, women in Colorado will be able to choose when and if they have children."

The bill s aid Colorado residents have a "fundamental right" to ab ortion , and fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses do not have independent rights under state law.

It also s aid cities and other public entities cannot take steps to block abortions.

Polis included a signing statement with the legislation, which governors use to express more detailed opinions new laws.

He emphasized it will not change any abortion policies in Colorado. Instead, he wrote "this bill simply maintains this status quo regardless of what happens at the federal level and preserves all existing constitutional rights and obligations."

The bill was one of the most debated measures at the state Capitol in modern history.

In the House lawmakers debated it for 24 consecutive hours before it went on to spark more than 14 hours of debate in the Senate.

Republicans spent hours trying to stop the legislation from advancing.

Kristi Burton Brown, the chairwoman of the state's Republican party, called the bill "barbaric" in a statement shortly after it passed last month.

"This is a dark day for the Colorado Democrat Party and any individual who respects the sanctity of life," she said.

Democrats who attended a signing ceremony for the bill were excited about the milestone, with many taking selfies and cheering loudly as sponsors talked about its passage.

The event drew the biggest crowd of any bill signing ceremony so far this legislative session.

"This is the response to the anti-abortion attacks that we've seen move forward in the courts and in conservative state legislatures across the country," Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, said. "This is about freedom and this is about power. The freedom to decide when, whether and how to become a parent. The power to make your own decision about your body and your health without having to ask permission from your local politician."

Lawmakers were greeted by two people protesting the new law as they left the governor's mansion.

One man held a large picture of a fetus and a sign urging lawmakers to protect the sanctity of life.

Colorado was the first state to decriminalize abortions in 1967 — and voters have now rejected four initiatives to restrict it since 2008.

In 2020, voters rejected a measure aiming to restrict the procedure after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Copyright 2022 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.