DENVER – Congresswoman Diana DeGette, the co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, implored the Senate to act and pass House-passed legislation protecting people’s right to abortion care, despite it failing to do so earlier this year, after the leak of the draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
The House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act last September in a 218-211 vote, with all Republicans voting against the measure and all Democrats voting in favor except for Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.
But when the motion to proceed to a vote in the Senate came up on Feb. 28, the measure failed to get the 60 votes necessary to proceed in a 46-48 vote, with all voting Republicans voting against the measure along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.
Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper both voted in favor of the motion to proceed, which is often seen as taking the temperature of how senators will vote on the measure itself.
But the leaked decision, though Chief Justice John Roberts has said it is not final, has renewed urgency for pro-choice people and politicians to pass the measure at the federal level because if the court’s decision holds whenever the final opinion is released, abortion would effectively be illegal in 23 states, including several that border Colorado.
DeGette and representatives for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Cobalt, a pro-choice group, said federal protections were needed to not further socioeconomic and racial disparities that already affect women seeking abortions and other reproductive health care.
One of the women at the press conference was Dani Newsum, the director of strategic partnerships at Cobalt. Newsum has been pregnant six times in her life.
"It's been quite a journey," Newsum said. "I've had two miscarriages, one ectopic pregnancy, and then my fifth pregnancy was our daughter, Marissa.”
Marissa was delivered through a Cesarean delivery on May 1, 1990. She passed away in Newsum's arms on May 5, 1990. The Cesarean delivery was performed to try and save both Newsum and her child's life.
“I developed preeclampsia. And that's a condition of pregnancy, and your blood pressure just spikes," Newsum explained. “One of the problems that, as I look back on and the more I read about the problems that women, but particularly women of color, and particularly African American women, experience during their pregnancies is sometimes having a physician who doesn't believe you.”
Newsum said she told her doctor she was worried her baby was not growing, but that her Obstetrician-Gynecologist was not concerned until it was too late.
“It's been 32 years. So it's very, very painful. It burns not like the grief, the immediate grief, which is all consuming and you just don't see how you can live," Newsum said, with tears in her eyes. “It's something I live with every day. And I mean, time does do wonders, time does do wonders. But there are still times when it can just knock you to your knees.”
She was told never to become pregnant again, for her safety. However Newsum found herself pregnant once more.
“There was a decision I had to make. But at that time, it's like, okay, this is just my decision," Newsum recalled. “We are going to try, and the medical intervention was totally different than before.”
Her sixth pregnancy became her second child, who is now a healthy adult. However, in the wake of the leaked first draft of the SCOTUS decision regarding Roe v. Wade, she cannot help but think of her own choice, and how different it could have been without the health care access she had.
“Look at all that I had on my side. And, it only made me acutely aware of the millions of people who don't have that," Newsum said. “It just made me realize just how fortunate I was, and how so many people, through no fault of their own have had the cards of life stacked against them.”
“We passed the bill in the House, the first pro-choice legislation to ever pass in the House, to codify Roe v. Wade and say, as a nation, we believe every woman should have the health care she needs,” DeGette said. “But then the bill went to the Senate and the bill did not pass. I’m here to say the Senate must act to protect the health care for every woman in this country – not just in blue states, but for women in every state. Because we are all Americans and we all deserve a right to full health care, and that includes abortion.”
Adrienne Mansanares, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) said on Tuesday the organization had seen an increase in the number of appointments made since the draft opinion leaked.
She and Karen Middleton, the executive director of Cobalt, reiterated that abortion will remain legal in Colorado regardless of what happens at the court level because of the Reproductive Health Equity Act Gov. Jared Polis signed last month, but pressed the Senate to act so the U.S. is “not turning out backs,” as Middleton said, to women across the country.
DeGette and the others discussed how abortion providers could be overwhelmed with people traveling to states where it is legal, like Colorado, in order to receive care, and how many people will not be able to afford to travel even with financial help from groups like Cobalt.
The number, and share, of people receiving abortions in Colorado jumped to a five-year high in 2021, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Nearly 14% (1,560 of 9,949) of people who received abortions here last year came from out of state, up front 13% in 2020 and 11.3% in 2017.
Even though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday he plans to bring another version of the Women’s Health Protection Act to the Senate floor in the wake up of the draft decision, it would still need 60 votes to pass unless Democrats decide to undo the filibuster.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, suggested senators do exactly that, but it is not clear the appetite is there for such a move even on the Democratic side, and getting 60 votes would require several Republicans to change their minds from where they were in February.
And though Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have expressed concern with the leaked opinion, both voted for several of the justices nominated by former President Donald Trump who signed Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion and said at the time they felt the justices would not overturn Roe v. Wade.
On Wednesday, DeGette called both of the senators “naïve” that they might have believed such a decision was off the table.
“I’m shocked to hear that. We passed our bill in the House, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which put it into statute. Both Sens. Collins and Murkowski at that tie said they would not support the bill even though it put Roe into statute,” DeGette said. “So I hope those two senators now realize that we’re playing for real now.”
But DeGette also hinted that she was not confident the Senate would be able to pass the bill. She said she and others in the caucus have been anticipating the court’s decision for months and were expediting plans that have been in development. She said she would be talking to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday along with campaign representatives.
And if the Senate does not move, she said people should vote for Democrats this November to hold the House majority and try to increase the number of Democratic Senate seats.
“The voters must act today, in every primary, and must act in the fall to make sure we keep the pro-choice majority in the U.S. House and take enough seats in the Senate so we can pass laws making sure every woman has the right o full health care, including abortions,” Degette said. “That needs to be the goal.”