Why I Fight for Roe

Thirty-nine years after Roe v. Wade's extraordinary impact, we must recognize that a women's legal right to choose is now in as great of jeopardy as it has ever been.
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It was 39 years ago today the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that a woman has a legal right to choose, constitutionally protected under the 14th Amendment.

Four decades later, generations of young women have come of age under the protection of Roe, securing their health and safety in the most personal decision of their lives, and upholding the dignity of their personal freedom. But four decades later, the issue of woman's right to choose has also become a rallying cry for ideologues, bringing attack after attack against this right and against women's access to full reproductive health care. So 39 years later as we mark Roe's extraordinary impact, we must recognize that a women's legal right to choose is now in as great of jeopardy as it has ever been.

As a fourth generation Coloradoan, I have been extraordinarily proud to lead the fight in Congress to protect that critical right, guided by a mission rooted in my strong Western values of personal freedom and common sense. I have been fighting this battle since my earliest days of public service, and I now recognize it is one I must likely fight the rest of my career.

Colorado women had long been proud that our state was one of the first states to decriminalize abortion back in 1967. But when I began my first term in the Colorado State House of Representatives in 1993, it had been a quarter-century since we had passed any pro-choice legislation in the state. Attacks against a woman's legal right to choose were already all too commonplace and as an elected representative, I wanted to do something to reaffirm our state's commitment to reproductive rights. And so I began my fight for legislation that came to be known as the "Bubble Bill."

In Colorado and across the country, women attempting to enter reproductive health care clinics were frequently being attacked or assaulted by protestors around the clinics. They were hit, verbally assaulted, accosted, or spat on, representing a significant infringement upon their fundamental right to choose. I wanted to pass a common-sense solution to protect those women while at the same time recognizing the First Amendment rights of the protestors.

Along with my friend and colleague Mike Feeley, a Colorado state senator, I settled on what I thought was a seemingly non-controversial solution: a "bubble" keeping protestors from getting closer than eight feet from anyone walking into a clinic. To me, this was a common-sense compromise -- eight feet was still more than close enough to be heard, but far enough away that women could avoid being assaulted. Nonetheless, the reaction from the religious right was swift, negative, and almost killed the bill. I persevered, however, and Colorado became one of the first states to adopt this buffer zone around women's health clinics. It went on to withstand challenge after challenge, including one brought to the United States Supreme Court.

The Bubble Bill was my first experience with how willing the religious right was to subjugate common sense and personal freedom to their ideological agenda, but it was far from my last. Nearly two decades later, that ideological agenda now dominates much of the legislation considered by a U.S. House of Representatives currently controlled by a very vocal right wing.

In the first year of the 112th Congress the U.S. House did not once consider comprehensive jobs legislation, but we still managed to vote seven different times to restrict a woman's access to a full range of reproductive health care. We voted to defund family planning services and raise taxes on women who purchase comprehensive insurance coverage. We voted to restrict federal funding from going to comprehensive medical training programs. We even voted to allow hospitals to deny life-saving care to women if it involved performing an abortion.

These votes threaten the health of women all across America and I will continue to stand up against these attacks. I fight to protect a woman's right to choose largely grounded in my Western values of personal freedom and common sense. But as today's anniversary approached, I wanted to hear from others about why defending that right was important to them. So on Friday I turned to Facebook and asked my followers for their stories, and the answers were astounding.

Sarah told me how she will never have the same experiences as another woman -- so it certainly isn't her place to judge what is the right choice for that individual. Jen said it was an issue of keeping the government out of her day-to-day life. Stephanie mentioned the inevitability of women needing to exercise their right to choose -- and the documented health risks of criminal abortions. Jess cited the liberalized abortion laws in Western Europe as proof that increased access to reproductive health care and sex education is the most effective way to reduce abortions. Michael mentioned his personal story about supporting a family member's decision, and what that meant for him and his family.

If you have a moment, I encourage you to visit my Facebook page and read these stories for yourself. Everyone has their own story, and for all these reasons today we must not just celebrate the impact of Roe, but also commit to keep fighting to protect it -- because the right to choose means nothing without the means or ability to exercise that right. By raising awareness and fighting to preserve access to comprehensive reproductive health care, we can ensure that abortions are safe, legal, and above all, rare. For me, it's just common sense.

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