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 was still going as of Saturday morning. At roughly 23 hours and counting, it is thought to be the longest debate in this Capitol in at least 25 years.
The outcome is not in question. Democrats hold a 41-24 majority in the House and will pass this bill. They could limit debate and squash the GOP delay by a simple majority vote, but doing so would buck longstanding tradition and Democratic leaders said they had no plan to do that.
“I’m here for it,” said Rep. Meg Froelich, a Democrat of Greenwood Village and a lead sponsor of the bill.
At many points since Friday morning, lawmakers have noted that not a single vote in the chamber is going to be swayed by this debate, which has been dominated by Republicans speaking slowly and reading off a variety of materials that help them kill time.
“Both sides of the aisle find this to be a core issue,” Republican state Rep. Stephanie Luck of Penrose said. “Both sides see it as a means by which to demonstrate to Colorado their love of people, their compassion for people, their understanding of the needs of people. And, yet, we fall on the exact opposite sides of the spectrum. So what we find ourselves in right now is a stalemate.”
There is no apparent compromise here. The Democrats believe fundamentally that pregnant people should have the bodily autonomy to access safe, legal abortion. Being in the majority, they don’t have to budge at all, and they don’t plan to.
“There is no ability to negotiate, to move us out of this. It’s just a polarizing topic,” said House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Democrat of Pueblo who is sponsoring the bill along with Froelich. “We will be here as long as we have to be here to continue to fight for the right for women to have a right to choose in the state of Colorado. We’re here to protect that right and we’re going to keep going as long as they make us go.”
By Esgar’s own admission, and that of other bill proponents, HB22-1279 does not actually propose big changes in Colorado. Abortion is already legal here, without restrictions on when in a pregnancy someone can choose to seek abortion. But state law does not affirmatively state as much, so with abortion rights threatened at the national level, Colorado Democrats want to codify existing rights.
So lengthy is this debate that some have come and gone from the Capitol, slept in their cars and offices and even nodded off on the House floor.
Two House Republicans, Minority Leader Hugh McKean of Loveland and Rep. Shane Sandridge of El Paso County, engaged in a brief spat around 5 a.m. Sandridge felt the caucus leader wasn’t doing enough to fight back against Democrats repeatedly interrupting Republican speeches on the grounds that the speeches were veering away from the content of the bill. Marianne Goodland of Colorado Politics reported the confrontation between Sandridge and McKean was “physical” in nature.
To keep in line with the rules on content, Republicans read verbatim from studies and from previous public testimony on the topic of abortion. This is a common tactic when trying to stall a bill.
Whenever the House does vote, it will still need one more vote — potentially coming as soon as Monday — to pass the bill on to the Senate. Democrats control the Senate, too, and they will also pass the bill, even if, as expected, debate runs for many hours. The governor, Democrat Jared Polis, has signaled he’ll sign it into law when it gets to his desk.
On Wednesday, this bill was the subject of a committee debate that ran 14 hours, wrapping Thursday morning around 4 a.m.
This is a developing story and it will be updated.
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