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CO Advocate Perspective on The 2024 Policy Agenda

The Benefits of Widespread and Equitable Abortion Access

In the midst of the pandemic in 2021, my heart dropped when I realized that I was accidentally pregnant. I was single, isolated, depressed, and financially insecure. Personally, I knew that I had no business bringing a child into these circumstances. Because of the work I was doing at the time, I was simultaneously subjected to a lot of anti-abortion and shame messaging. I still feel anxious when I remember driving past “cemeteries” dedicated to aborted babies. I was at a crossroads where I had to make important and life-altering decisions for myself. I made my choice, and I wish I could ensure that everyone currently going through this has the education, ability, and confidence to make theirs.

Maybe someone like me is not ready to care for a child and doesn’t have the financial or emotional support to thrive. Maybe someone is pregnant as a result of deep trauma. Maybe there are serious, even deadly, health consequences from carrying a pregnancy to full term. Maybe someone simply doesn’t want a baby. The bottom line is that there are so many different reasons why one might choose to get an abortion, and all are valid.

I was able to get a safe abortion here in Colorado, even if it was expensive. Thankfully, my personal circumstances allowed me to afford the procedure in a timely manner, and I had friends who offered to lend me the money if I couldn’t afford it myself. I was also confident in my choice and was able to withstand the accusations of shame or regret that I was told I would feel eventually. I fully recognize that this might not be everyone’s situation.

Abortion is not legal everywhere, leading to some babies being born into brutal circumstances and some people having to navigate the legal and criminal justice systems. Regardless of the legality of abortion, access might be limited by affordability, transportation, or even the knowledge that the procedure is available. Every single person who needs or wants an abortion should be able to get one safely.

I hope to see Colorado become a safe place for anyone, regardless of residency or citizenship, to access this crucial health care. Furthermore, access should be affordable or even, dare I say, free! I am eager to see abortion resources and education well-distributed among our communities, especially those where abortion is traditionally demonized. Pregnancy shouldn’t bear lifelong or criminal consequences for anyone.

Today, I can pursue my career and personal aspirations without the consequences of a simple “mistake” from years ago. I can confidently say that I wouldn’t have been able to thrive professionally, personally, or emotionally if things had gone differently. I am going to fight like hell to make sure that everyone has access to the same bodily autonomy and health care choices that I did, allowing them to thrive.

The author is a 2024 Young Advocate in Colorado.

Health Care: Start at the Source

As a social worker in the Montbello neighborhood of Denver, I have observed a troublingly high prevalence of asthma among the children I work with. The health care system, unfortunately, is neither affordable nor accessible for many families here. However, addressing health disparities at their source can lead to significant improvements. Montbello faces numerous environmental injustices, including air, water, and soil pollution, as well as being a food desert.

One major contributor to the area’s environmental woes is the Suncor Energy refinery, a key provider of gasoline and diesel fuel for Colorado. This refinery frequently exceeds permissible levels of chemical emissions, severely impacting air quality. Additionally, the refinery’s location along the South Platte River means pollutants are also being released into the water and soil. Moreover, Montbello’s north side borders the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a former US Army chemical weapons manufacturing site, adding another layer of environmental risk.

These environmental hazards have dire consequences for the community. The children I work with suffer from high rates of asthma, poor diets, food insecurity, and a general disconnect from nature and their community. My work with these families, coupled with my background in Environmental Studies, has given me a clear understanding of how exposure to toxins in the air and waterways negatively impacts health.

To truly support the residents of Montbello, we must tackle these environmental issues head-on. Targeting companies like the Suncor refinery to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is crucial. Clean air would significantly decrease the number of children developing asthma and other respiratory issues, thereby reducing the health-related financial burdens on their families.

Addressing these environmental injustices not only improves immediate health outcomes but also fosters a healthier and more sustainable community. By holding polluters accountable and pushing for stricter environmental regulations, we can ensure that all residents of Montbello, especially the children, have the chance to live healthier lives. This holistic approach is vital for creating lasting change and improving the quality of life for everyone in the neighborhood.

Erin Olesiewicz is based out of Denver, CO, but has lived in Wilmington, DE, Phoenix, AZ, and Boulder, CO, and considers herself a byproduct of all of these cities. She obtained an honors degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder and aspires to work in government policy to promote Environmental Justice initiatives. Currently, Erin works in the Social Work field for a non-profit afterschool program, engaging with children in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood. She joined Young Invincibles to strengthen her leadership and advocacy skills in community engagement for policy change.

Doulas and Increased Access to Birth Support Will Save Lives

I’m excited about Young Invincibles’ (YI) policy agenda, with health care standing out as the most critical focus area for me. This issue hits close to home, as I identify with many young individuals and mothers who, like me, struggle with anxiety or depression while striving to overcome traumatic experiences and become their best selves. I strongly advocate for accessible mental health services, especially for those who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACE). I believe that youth on Medicaid who have endured trauma should automatically qualify for family therapy without needing a diagnosis, as therapy itself can be re-traumatizing and challenging. Trauma rewires our brains in various ways, and ensuring this level of support is the least we can do for young people’s mental health.

Additionally, I support YI’s policy on providing reproductive health services for both providers and patients. I firmly believe in every individual’s right to choose without fear of penalty. Quality, accessible birthing support and reproductive health are crucial, especially for low-income and Indigenous/Chicana mothers like myself. I’ve experienced a traumatic birth, and I believe Medicaid coverage for birth doulas could be life-changing for many future parents. As a mother under Medicaid, affording a doula was out of reach due to the high costs associated with raising children. Parenthood can be isolating, and adding PTSD or birth trauma into the mix only exacerbates the challenges. Policies that support pregnant and birthing people, provide a sense of belonging, and enhance birthing experiences are vital, and I wholeheartedly support them.

While I personally didn’t benefit from having a doula, I acknowledge the significant research showing how doulas can improve birthing outcomes. In today’s climate, where Indigenous and Black mothers are disproportionately affected by pregnancy complications, policies like Medicaid reimbursement for doulas are crucial steps toward addressing these disparities. Black and Indigenous maternal deaths are preventable and stem from systemic racism in the United States. Increasing access to quality doulas and perinatal/postpartum care is one solution to this crisis. Every person, regardless of income, should have the choice to have a doula. We must advocate for policies that protect and empower birthing people, particularly those from marginalized populations, through equitable and increased birth support. Medicaid reimbursement for doulas is a positive step forward in ensuring the health and well-being of those in need of birth support. I’m proud to see these health care policies advancing, and I eagerly anticipate their progress.

Giselle Arroyo is a mom of two who is active in environmental protection, social justice, and advocacy work. She works in youth development and programming as one of Spirit of the Sun’s youth program co-coordinators and works as Colorado Rising for Communities’ youth outreach coordinator.

The Path Towards the Soul’s Mission 

It wasn’t until recently that I realized I’m here to make a substantial impact on the world before me. I knew that my ancestors made sacrifices and paved the way for me to be a game changer, so there’s no turning back or giving up until then. Or at least, I’ll die trying.

Going through university often left me feeling isolated from the rest of the students. Most of it was because of differences in identity, but I also had different dreams to achieve compared to my peers. I’ve always felt that I’m meant to be the one in textbooks, not these old white men. That could come off as conceited, but that’s what dreaming big does. It allows me to see myself in ways society hasn’t shown me (and doesn’t want me to know about).

Coming across Young Invincibles lit my soul on fire again. I felt that inspiration flow through me after being stagnant for a while. After graduating with my bachelor’s in psychology, I went from feeling excited to step out into the world, to feeling jaded about the lack of direction. However, seeing what YI is capable of gives me hope that I am also capable, and this is only the beginning of my journey towards advocacy.

I’m strongly interested in the different House and Senate Bills going on in CO. One in particular hits home, and that’s SB24-053, the Racial Equity Study Bill. As someone of African descent, this could be the pivotal point for racial justice for the Black community, and it could trickle down, allowing other historically marginalized communities of color to obtain justice and liberation too.

Being Black in America isn’t for the faint-hearted, let alone being Black in a state like CO where the community only makes up 4.7% of the state’s population. It’s a unique challenge in itself. There are isolation, exclusion, and covert tendencies that take place here compared to other places like the South, where it’s more overt. (If you ask me, I personally want to know upfront how people feel about me versus being secretly manipulative; I am just saying).

While this fight isn’t over and might not be for a while, knowing about what YI is doing to support folks most impacted by the system gives me a reason to keep fighting. As mentioned earlier, my ancestors didn’t sacrifice all that they did for me to only come this far. I’m here, and I will continue to be unapologetically myself.

Lexie Allen is an undergrad student who is looking to combine advocacy and psychology to improve the well-being of historically/systematically harmed communities.