Today, approximately a hundred advocates of women's health took to the Capitol as part of Pro-Choice Lobby Day. The event, held in Denver annually for more than a decade, brought the Protect Families Protect Choice Coalition together with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains to train supporters as citizen advocates in preparation for political change in 2012.
Although last year featured about 85 participants, approximately 130 people pre-registered for this year's event, which began with breakfast at 9 a.m. From there, the group separated into legislative districts, with a lobby leader organizing each section. Before the group's march to the Capitol to speak with state senators and representatives, those leaders led a mock lobbying session in preparation for the next event.
The day's proceedings kicked off with a rally, during which the group addressed a handful of national and local conflicts that could limit a woman's right to choose. Most notable among these are incentives pushing "personhood," seen in Colorado through House Bill 1130, which would establish limits on both contraception and abortion. Although Colorado voters rejected the idea of a fertilized egg earning personhood in both 2008 and 2010, the push continues to come to shove.
"For many people, it's a first opportunity to directly lobby," says Monica McCafferty, director of marketing and communications for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. "It's a huge opportunity for like-minded people to come together, and it's real-world training for the decisions that are going to be discussed in the new year."
During the group's debriefing session, lobbying professionals walked the marchers through Senate Bill 93, which would require hospitals with religious concerns regarding procedures like abortions to notify their patients, and the aforementioned HB 1130, which would establish a fertilized egg as a person who could be claimed as the victim of a criminal act. In recent weeks, SB 93 passed through the senate, while HB 1130 has cleared the House judiciary committee and is headed to the floor.
Although Bogus says the group doesn't expect 1130 to gain support in the Senate, the Protect Families Protect Choice coalition continues to publicly and aggressively oppose the effort.
"Every year, it's very dependent on what we're seeing at the state level," says Mary Bogus, field operations specialist for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. "Pro-Choice Lobby Day is a chance for us to remind [lawmakers] that women are watching and are trying to keep them accountable. We want to make sure they do what's best for Colorado."
In the new political year, McCafferty notes the potential for Colorado and its political independents to play a weighty role in efforts to advance women's health opportunities. At present, however, the state's House of Representatives maintains a pro-life majority sentiment. Given national concerns regarding funding for birth control, the group hopes to translate collective frustration into political action in the coming months, starting with this annual effort to educate supporters on advocacy.
"Looking at what's going on nationally, there are a lot of people out there frustrated and annoyed about the discussions going on in 2012, but we cannot take women's health backwards," McCafferty says. "In Colorado, we have huge champions for women's health at the deferral and state level, but with that being said, there are still people who want to undermine the event. Colorado has a long history of being progressive in that area, but each year there are attacks on that right."
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