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Gov. Polis signs bill guaranteeing abortion access in Colorado

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Governor Jared Polis signs the Reproductive Health Equity Act into law April 4, 2022. The bill's main sponsors, all Democrats, joined him at the table. From left: Sen. Julie Gonzales, Rep. Meg Froelich and Rep. Daneya Esgar.

DENVER — While abortion has been legal in Colorado for decades, guaranteed access to the procedure was not technically state law, until now.

Governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 1279, known as the Reproductive Health Equity Act, into law April 4, 2022. Democrats in the Colorado legislature passed the bill March 23.

The bill codifies protections for the full range of reproductive care, including abortions, and makes it so that a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have personhood rights under Colorado law.

“In Colorado, we truly respect individual rights and freedoms,” Polis said during a signing ceremony at the Governor's Mansion.  After signing the bill, Polis, a Democrat, said, “Women's right to choose is now protected in Colorado.”

"I couldn't be prouder," said Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, after Polis signed the bill, "because in light of these attacks that we're seeing on being able to access abortion care and reproductive health care, we in Colorado are taking a stand and saying, 'No.' We trust Coloradans to make their own health care decisions. And that trust and respect is paramount, and to see that enshrined in law just makes me feel proud."

Sen. Gonzales takes a selfie at the signing ceremony at the Governor's Mansion.

The vote in the Senate was 20-15 along party lines. Legislators debated the bill for 13 hours on Tuesday and then another two hours on Wednesday.

"It's really what the majority of Coloradans believe: everyone deserves the freedom to make the medical decisions based on their own circumstances. We must protect that right here. And that's why so many of us across the state are supporting HB22-1279," said Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis (D-Longmont).

Republicans argued that the bill goes too far. During debates in the House, Arapahoe County Republican Rep. Rod Bockenfeld said the bill is "unbridled abortion."

Democrats were confident that the Reproductive Health Equity Act would pass due to the party's control of the House and Senate, but the bill's passage was far from expeditious. Beginning Friday, March 11, debate over the bill in the Colorado House, which Republicans extended, lasted almost 24 hours. It is believed to be the longest debate in the Capitol in at least 25 years.

Colorado's historic bill comes at a time when many Republican-led state legislatures are stripping protections for reproductive care in anticipation of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade precedent. Texas, for example, recently banned abortions after six weeks (Planned Parenthood health centers in the states bordering Texas reported an 800% increase in abortion patients after Texas enacted its six-week ban). Republicans in Missouri, meanwhile, are trying to pass a bill that would penalize people who travel out of state to obtain an abortion.

[Related: 21 states poised to ban or severely restrict abortion if 'Roe v. Wade' is overturned]

According to the Reproductive Health Equity Act's text, Colorado lawmakers have introduced more than 40 bills since 2010 that would have criminalized or outlawed abortion.

Earlier this year, Castle Rock Republican Rep. Patrick Neville introduced a bill that would have prohibited most abortions in Colorado with no exceptions for rape or incest, and the doctors who performed the procedures would have faced felony charges. It was voted down in committee.

However, Neville's failed bill highlights that fact that even though the Reproductive Health Equity Act is now law, it could be overturned by a future legislature. That is why some lawmakers and advocates are working to add abortion protections to the state constitution via a ballot measure in 2024. If approved by voters, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion access would be much more difficult to overturn.

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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