Democratic state lawmakers want to put a final stamp on the right to an abortion by expressly codifying it some 55 years after it became legal in Colorado.

Opponents are already gearing for a legal challenge, should it become law.

Members of the majority party introduced House Bill 22-1279, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, on Thursday. Sponsored by House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo; Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Greenwood Village and Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, the bill declares that every pregnant individual has a "fundamental right" to continue the pregnancy or undergo an abortion, and that every individual has a fundamental right to use or refuse contraception. The bill also declares that a "fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of  the state."

The trio of sponsors argued on Friday that the bill, which will be heard in the House Health & Insurance Committee next Wednesday, is necessary given repeated efforts by Republican lawmakers to overturn abortion rights, as well as what the U.S. Supreme Court could decide later this year on a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

The attacks on Roe v. Wade require a Colorado response, Gonzales told reporters.

"We are going to ensure access to the full range of contraception and reproductive health care, including abortion," she said.

In a statement Thursday, Gonzales also said that, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, effectively leaving it up to the states whether to permit the procedure, current Colorado law does not explicitly protect the right to abortion.

"This is vitally important," given what's happening around the country, Esgar said.

That includes the "Texas Heartbeat Act" law that bans abortions at seven weeks' gestation. That's driving Texas residents to come to Colorado for abortion services, the sponsors said.

HB 1279 is already under scrutiny from the Colorado Catholic Conference.

Brittany Vessely, the conference's executive director, outlined pro-life concerns, beginning with the bill's expected rapid turnaround with an introduction on Thursday night and its first hearing the following Wednesday. Vessely said that does not give people enough time to exercise their views "on an important issue that pertains to life and human dignity."

She said the Colorado Catholic Conference is prepared to challenge HB 1279 in court, should it become law.

She noted that the bill expressly prohibits any interference with someone's right to abortion, which she said could impede the state's parental notification law and thereby a violation of parental rights. The bill is incredibly vague and far-reaching, which lends itself to legal scrutiny, she added.

Colorado became the first state in the nation to legalize abortion in cases of rape or incest or when the mother's life is in jeopardy, a law sponsored by then-Rep. Dick Lamm in 1967.

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The issue has become a lightning rod for conservatives, with four attempts at the ballot to ban abortions or limit access to them between 2008 and 2020, as well as 44 legislative efforts by Republican lawmakers to do the same at the state Capitol.

Pro-choice lawmakers had been content to play defense, rejecting the bills attempting to restrict or outright ban abortion, including three measures that all went down to defeat last week. But they said that since reproductive rights are under attack at the U.S. Supreme Court, the time is now to affirm that right in state law. 

Should HB 1279 become law, it's unlikely to be the last word on the subject.

Sponsors said the next step would be to affirm that right in the Colorado Constitution with a ballot initiative, which could happen as soon as 2024, if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

But they believe efforts – including ballot measures – to ban or limit abortion to a set number of gestational weeks could end if the bill is signed into law.

Colorado Right to Life warns the bill's backers to get their lawyers ready.

Will Duff, a spokesman for Colorado Right to life, said, "Just like when slavery was legal, we would continue to fight no matter what."

Should HB 22-1279 become law, Duffy said pro-life activists would "absolutely" mount a legal challenge.

There's already a challenge on the horizon: the state title board is currently working on a ballot measure on the murder of a child that includes murder prior to birth. Opponents, such as COBALT, claim the measure is another attempt to ban abortion. 

Vessely said it's clear the sponsors of HB 1279 see the value of a constitutional amendment, but she said ballot measures can cut both ways by giving people voice to decide what the law should or shouldn't be. (The Colorado Catholic Conference does not support the ballot measure currently in front of the title board.)

As for voters rejecting various anti-abortion measures four consecutive times, Vessely said 150,000 Coloradans put the 2020 initiative, Proposition 115, on the ballot, and the voting blocs that rejected it came from Denver and Boulder. 

That voting bloc does not represent "the vast swath, geographically, in Colorado. A lot of voices are being stifled in this conversation," she said, adding groups that continue to try and ban abortion via a ballot measures "are fully within their rights to bring propositions regardless of outcomes in the past. 

However, according to the Secretary of State's 2020 election results, voters in 31 counties rejected Proposition 115, including traditionally Republican-leaning counties, such as Douglas, Garfield, Park and Chaffee.