Rep. Amy Stephens — a Colorado Springs Republican who once worked for evangelical powerhouse organization Focus on the Family — argued Tuesday against an anti-abortion proposal that would have made providing emergency contraception to victims of rape and incest a Class 3 felony.
Stephens told fellow members of a House health committee that in her struggle with the issue she had consulted her pastors. In the end, she decided she disagreed with them because she believes that access to abortion medication for victims of rape and incest is an essential right and a matter of self-defense, and that it would be wrong to force women to bear children conceived as a result of criminal abuse.
“A woman should be able to protect herself as a right of self-defense in the case of rape and incest to prevent pregnancy,” she said. “As a woman, I’m sorry, I just can’t say ‘Fend for yourself, and we’re going to force you, force you, in this situation’ — I don’t agree with that. This is a case of self defense… Today we have remedies in cases of rape and incest and I don’t think we should take them away.
“I don’t think we should victimize women,” she said. “I don’t see the wisdom in forcing a woman who wants to take immediate action [to end the possible pregnancy] — I don’t see that as helpful to women.”
(Listen to the audio here. The debate on the amendment runs from roughly 5:30 to 13:30.)
Stephens was proposing to amend a controversial hard-line anti-abortion bill brought by Rep. Stephen Humphrey, a Republican from Severance. Humphrey’s House Bill 1033 (pdf) sought to criminalize the destruction of fertilized eggs — an idea at the center of the so-called personhood movement. Proponents argue human life begins at conception and so fertilized eggs should be fully protected by the nation’s laws.
Humphrey opposed the Stephens amendment, as did the majority Democrats on the committee. The amendment was ultimately defeated and so was Humphrey’s bill.
But the surprising turn in Tuesday’s debate, in which the two high-profile Christian-right lawmakers took opposing stands on abortion policy, marked yet another instance in which Colorado officeholders have expressed strong views about the morality of emergency contraception while also being unclear about the science.
The Colorado Independent recently reported that Weld County commissioners in 2010 voted after days of debate to stop providing “Plan B” contraception pills to county patients due to concerns that the pills cause abortions. Plan B is the same pill many authorities give to victims of rape in the hours after an assault, the pill Stephens seemed clearly to have in mind when she proposed her amendment.
But Plan B is not an abortion pill, as is RU 486, for example, a pill that blocks hormones needed for established pregnancies to progress. According to the Food and Drug Administration and members of the mainstream medical establishment (including members of the American Medical Association and county medical chiefs across the state), Plan B pills do not affect fertilized eggs. There is no fertilization because the pills prevent ovulation, like everyday birth control pills do.
As The New York Times has reported, the distinction between the medications has become blurred, partly because wary anti-abortion groups continue to base campaigns on outdated research that nevertheless still appears on the warning labels attached to emergency contraception products.
Stephens has been bitterly attacked on the right over the last two years for sponsoring state-health-exchange legislation necessary to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare.” She may suffer even stronger criticism for standing up this week for women’s right to access abortion pills.