Reproductive rights

There has been an unrelenting attempt, in Colorado and across the nation, to curb women’s access to various contraception and abortion services. By and large, the laws have been reprehensible, creating unreasonable and intrusive hurdles for women and their reproductive choices.

Many of these measures have been struck down – by lawmakers or voters – but others have not, resulting in a growing climate of restriction with respect to states’ abortion laws. In a wholly symbolic effort to remove Colorado from that current, Democrats in the state Legislature have proposed a bill that would prohibit any state or local law from restricting reproductive rights. While well-intended – perhaps – the measure is the wrong solution.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, among others and makes a relatively simple and important statement: “concerning freedom from government intervention in an individual’s reproductive health decisions.” That sounds good. There should be little if any such intervention. But the language contained in the legislation is, as its critics say, overly broad and not worth much in the end.

The bill would prohibit any state or local law or agency from enacting a policy that “denies or interferes with an individual’s reproductive health care decisions.” Further, the measure would prohibit the state or its localities from preventing the dissemination of reproduction-related information that is based on “current, evidence-based scientific data and medical consensus.”

That latter stipulation is wholly appropriate. There should be no state-sanctioned silencing of any information, regardless of its content. But the prohibition on any denial of or interference in access to reproductive care is much more a statement than a practically applicable law.

The measure would not necessarily be binding on future legislatures. Lawmakers could easily overturn the bill in future sessions, so in the meantime, it sends a message that is somewhat inconsistent with the lawmaking process. While many legislators – and those they represent – are right to vehemently oppose measures that impinge upon access to reproductive care, prohibiting entities from creating such barriers is not necessarily the answer. Whether any barrier in question is legitimate is not the issue; what is of concern is whether the Legislature is right to issue such a vague and largely symbolic order from on high.

The bill is, more than anything, an opportunity for lawmakers to go on record as being either for or against laws that impinge access to reproductive services and information. That construction is an oversimplification of a critical issue. As such, it is a political exercise far more than one that will have any meaningful impact on Coloradans. The Legislature should dispense with the exercise and focus on the more important business of making laws that carry actionable implications.

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