DENVER — Republican Gov. Bill Owens vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have forced hospitals to tell rape victims about emergency contraception, saying it would have crossed the line by forcing church-backed institutions to violate their own ethics guidelines.
“This bill would violate fundamental constitutional principles by forcing an institution to say things to patients that it explicitly does not believe to be morally or ethically valid,” said Owens, a Roman Catholic who has campaigned on conservative values.
Rep. Fran Coleman, D-Denver, a supporter of the bill, said she was disappointed.
“This was about emergency contraception. Rape victims didn’t ask for that procreation,” said Coleman, who had likened emergency contraception to having a bullet removed.
Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said hospitals that refuse to provide information on contraception to rape victims are imposing their own moral values on patients.
“This was a commonsense bill about giving a woman information so she could make her own choices,” Stone said.
In his veto message, Owens said House Bill 1042 was well-intentioned but probably unconstitutional.
Owens said it did not provide victims with balanced information needed to make a deeply personal decision about emergency contraception and it did not protect the right of institutions to decline to provide treatment that violated the institution’s moral values.
“Without informed consent, a woman could innocently violate her personal, moral and religious beliefs about when life begins,” Owens said.
Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, said Owens misconstrued the intent of the legislation.
“This was not about abortion, it was not about freedom, it was about women who were raped,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, said Democrats had tried to use their majorities in the House and Senate to ram through social legislation. He said the bill would have had more support if it allowed institutions to opt out over moral objections.
“That’s what they would have done if they cared about rape victims rather than flexing their muscles at the Catholic Church,” Hillman said.