By Emily Michels, Policy Analyst

We love women’s health…and we’re always glad when we see Colorado legislators that do, too! It’s often tough to stand up for what you and your constituents believe in when there are many others pushing back against your cause, but these two Colorado Representatives stay strong in their fight to protect and better the lives of Colorado women and women around the country. So without further ado, CCHI’s #NationalWomensHealthWeek CHAMPIONS OF WOMEN’S HEALTH are *drumroll please*

We interviewed these two women about their work this year, and in previous years, on women’s health issues, whether through legislation, advocacy, or just speaking their minds. Interview responses are paraphrased and have been given the approval of each representative.

CCHI: Women’s health can sometimes be a contentious issue. What inspires you to work on women’s health issues?

Rep. Lontine: For me, women’s health is a part of a bigger issue of having the ability to control our futures. It’s about developing economic stability and planning for our families. And these rights are a fundamental part of being American, to be able to control your own destiny.

Rep. Esgar: Women’s health has never been a stand-alone issue in my mind. I have a social justice organizing background and from that perspective everything is so circular and intertwined; women’s health fits into every category you can work on, so it’s an absolute necessity to tackle.

CCHI: What do you think the most pressing women’s health issue is today, and why do you think people should pay attention to it?

Rep. Lontine: I’m concerned about the continued assault on access to care. That’s not to say that we haven’t made a lot of progress in the area, because we have, however across the country there is a continued erosion of access to health care that we need to address. We’re fighting the same fight over and over again and people need to pay attention.

Rep. Esgar: Reproductive rights in general are a huge issue right now. Honestly, I can’t believe we still need to be fighting for those rights. We’re still very much on the defense and all it takes is a small political change to put those rights in jeopardy. It’s also tough because many of the people in control of this issue can’t fundamentally understand it because they have never and will never experience it firsthand.

“We’re fighting the same fight over and over again and people need to pay attention.”

-Representative Lontine

CCHI: Tell us about your favorite women’s health effort in which you’ve been involved, or one in which you hope to be involved in the future.

Rep. Lontine: I am very interested in working on early childhood education and health care, which inherently are intertwined with women’s health and family health. I’ve been looking into the issue of inappropriate suspensions from school, especially in young children, and the connection to social disparities.

Rep. Esgar: Being a part of the Health, Insurance, and Environment committee has been an enlightening experience – the entire Democratic caucus that sits on the committee is female and it’s been incredible to work as a team to defend women’s health and choice. It’s been empowering to work with these women to debunk the myths and lies that come out in these hearings and to tell people that Colorado won’t stand for these anti-choice laws.

“…it’s been incredible to work as a team to defend women’s health and choice.”

-Representative Esgar

CCHI: What has been the biggest challenge in working on women’s health issues?

Rep. Lontine: Ignorance and the lack of understanding. It’s very tough with an often polarizing issue to have people voting with their ideologies instead of scientific evidence. Many women’s health issues get lumped together and therefore misunderstood, for example contraception versus abortion issues – which are two very different things. There are definitely legislators on the other side of the aisle that recognize the importance of fighting for these issues – as we can see from the addition of money for family planning and LARC [Long Acting Reversible Contraception] into the budget – but we’ve got a long ways to go.

Rep. Esgar: For me the biggest challenge has been trying to listen to the other side and hear everyone’s voices fairly. I try to respect people’s values and know that their opinions have developed from backgrounds that might be different than mine. There’s a fine balance between my passion for the protection of women’s rights and everyone deserving to be heard; I will always respect someone’s time and effort in coming to the Capitol to testify, even if it’s against something I believe in strongly. The more I’ve been under the Dome, the more I recognize that it’s important to hear others when they’re not holding back their voices.

CCHI: What do you feel are the remaining issues for women’s health work, and what do you think success looks like in addressing them?

Rep. Lontine: The big issue is not having to fight the same, continued battles over and over again. Misunderstanding feeds anger and not truth and it’s easy for people to believe anything they hear, which makes it hard to overcome many of the same disputes from year to year – so continuing to educate people would also be a big hurdle. Success perhaps looks like maintaining the wins we’ve already gotten and working on proactive legislation to accumulate more wins. Getting people to look into other economic and social factors will also be a success and allowing the focus to remain on impacts instead of being hampered by preconceived notions about women’s health.

Rep. Esgar: There are quite a few remaining issues. Fighting to protect Roe v. Wade. Making sure that insurance companies can’t dodge payment for contraception that they’re required to cover. Continuing to fight for LARC funding year after year. The fact that many people making the rules will never have to experience the things the rules govern. Success to me looks like protecting what we have and pushing the envelope even more. It’s good to constantly show that there are other issues and that we’re not done. I’ll continue to fight to protect all women, even if they don’t agree with my opinions.

“Success to me looks like protecting what we have and pushing the envelope even more.”

-Representative Esgar

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