As an appellate public defender, I am accustomed to loss. I am accustomed to fighting impossible battles and pushing sliding boulders up the hill. I am accustomed to the randomness of outcomes, stemming from the grey spectrums of the law. Nearly 15 years of this work has made me resilient and thick-skinned. But nothing could prepare me for Roe v. Wade’s demise.
As a logical matter, I knew Roe v. Wade had been on life-support for a while. I knew many states had been methodically whittling away at women’s reproductive rights for years, making access to abortion more and more limited. And yet, as an emotional matter, facing the draft of Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Org, is a loss that I cannot fully accept. The 98 pages of female subservience and SNL fodder surely cannot be real, right? Surely, they will change their minds before the final release of the decision, right? Surely, my daughter will not have to fight the same battles as her grandmothers?
In 1967, my mother-in-law went to Mexico to obtain an abortion. As a middle-class white woman, she had access to abortion even when it was illegal here, but the procedure was not safe and she suffered a terrible infection that hospitalized her. Is this where we are headed again--where privilege begets access but not without risk and difficulty?
What’s the next phase of grief after denial? Rage? I am nearly there.
In this dismal reality, I take some solace in House Bill 22-1279, the “Reproductive Health Equity Act,” which Governor Polis recently signed into law on April 4, 2022. This Act codifies reproductive rights for Coloradans, ensuring all individuals have the fundamental right to use or refuse contraception, and all pregnant individuals have the choice to have an abortion or continue their pregnancies to birth. It clarifies that a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of the state. It also prohibits public entities from denying, depriving, restricting, interfering with, or discriminating against an individual’s reproductive rights. The legislative declaration specifically recognizes that not only does family planning allow individuals to pursue their personal goals but also “it helps decrease the health and socioeconomic disparities disproportionately faced by people of color and people with low incomes.”
HB 22-1279, available at https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/2022a_1279_signed.pdf.
Further, [w]hen individuals decide to have an abortion or use contraception, it is critical that they get care on a timeline that works for their health, with the support of providers whom they trust.” Amen! Thank goodness for all the legislators and organizers who enabled this bill to pass. In doing so, Colorado joined 15 other states and Washington DC, which have codified reproductive rights related to abortion.
While the nation grows further divided, Dobbs waits on the printer, and the crack detectives at SCOTUS scour the law clerk phone records for the leak, at least we can find comfort in the protection afforded by the Reproductive Health Equity Act.
Lynn Noesner is a Lead Deputy State Public Defender in the Appellate Division. In that capacity, she works to protect the state and federal constitutions and ensure that her indigent clients receive fair process in the criminal system. Lynn received her law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and her Bachelor of Arts in English and Women's Studies from Colgate University. In her free time, Lynn enjoys yoga, hanging out with her four-year-old daughter, and fighting oppression.