Dear 2016 GOP Presidential Hopefuls: Welcome to Colorado, a Pro-Choice State

On behalf of Coloradans - Democrats, Republicans, and Unaffiliated voters alike - I'd like to welcome the 2016 Republican Presidential candidates to our proudly pro-choice state. Support for reproductive rights cuts across party lines here and is an historic, mainstream value. You'd be welcome to join us and actually lead on the issue of privacy rights instead of caving in to the most extreme elements of the Republican base.

You should know that Colorado was the first state to legalize safe abortion access in the wake of the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut case recognizing a constitutional right to privacy - and we did it in 1967, six years before Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that upheld the right to have an abortion.

Colorado's abortion access bill was bipartisan, courtesy of (then) Colorado Representative Dick Lamm and Senator John Bermingham, approved by a majority-Republican legislature, and signed into law by Republican Governor John Love. They did so because they believed then, as we do now, that women are capable of making these decisions for themselves, without politicians telling them what to do.

Colorado is also home to an award-winning program supplying no-cost long-acting reversible contraception to young women. The result? According the latest numbers, Colorado cut the teen birth and abortion rate by almost *half* over the last five years.

Additionally, Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment estimates taxpayers saved almost $6 in Medicaid costs for every $1 invested in the contraceptive program. The bill to ensure state funding for it was co-sponsored in the House by Rep. KC Becker from Boulder and Rep. Don Coram, a conservative Republican from Montrose who recognized the common, beneficial ground of preventing teen pregnancy. Unfortunately, short-sighted extremists in the Republican-majority Senate killed the public money in committee, although a private foundation has agreed to stopgap support for another year.

Fully-funded reproductive health care to provide low-cost birth control and prevent unintended pregnancy is smart policy as well as smart politics, something that used to be a *conservative* value. And it's something you should support and lead on at the Federal level, instead of threatening to shut the government down over it.

Furthermore, seven in ten Americans believe in upholding Roe v. Wade and that number is as high as 77% here. Colorado voters have stated repeatedly, by similar margins, that they believe the decision to have an abortion belongs between a woman and her doctor, without government interference.

Yet time and time again we see bills introduced in Congress and in Colorado banning abortion and trying to take away those privacy rights introduced in the Colorado legislature. We saw six abortion ban bills in the 2015 Colorado General Assembly alone and dozens going after women's access to general healthcare. We've already seen a 20 week abortion ban voted on in Congress, as well as multiple votes cutting family planning and even a House committee attacking Planned Parenthood. Why does this keep happening, even as Colorado citizens have clearly made their wishes known?

So when you talk about supporting Personhood measures that take away a woman's rights to control her own body and make her own decisions, as Coloradans we question whose side you're on. When you support defunding Planned Parenthood, a frontline health care provider for thousands of women in this state, we wonder whose agenda you are serving. When you oppose full funding for Title X family planning, which saves taxpayer dollars and reduces unintended pregnancy, we ask whether you share our Colorado values.

You are coming to our great state to ask our voters to support you in your bid to become the next leader of the free world. The key word here is leader, not follower. That includes leading on our Colorado values of protecting, not taking away, abortion and reproductive rights.

Coloradans also enjoy a strong, stubborn streak of independence as a foundational core of our Western identity. I hope you will develop a sense of independence and that you will choose to lead on the issues of choice, privacy, and women's rights. Be brave.

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