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Trio of abortion access protection bills clear Senate committees


Trio of abortion access protection bills clear Senate committees

Mar 16, 2023 | 4:06 pm ET
By Sara Wilson
Trio of abortion access protection bills clear Senate committees
A view of the Colorado Capitol on May 9, 2022. (Pema Baldwin for Colorado Newsline)

Three Democrat-led bills to expand access to abortion care in Colorado passed through committee on Wednesday, as lawmakers seek to protect reproductive health care amid efforts by many other states try to limit or outright ban abortion.

If passed by the Legislature and signed into law, the bills would shield patients and providers from interstate investigations, ban deceptive advertising practices by so-called anti-abortion centers and require most insurance plans to cover reproductive health care like medication abortions and contraception.

The trio of bills builds upon the Legislature’s work last year to codify the right to abortion in the state through the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which was signed into law a few months before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections. Since then, Colorado has seen a sharp uptick of pregnant people coming to the state to receive abortion care.

Senate Bill 23-188 seeks to protect patients who travel to Colorado for abortions or gender-affirming care — as well as the providers who administer the care — from facing criminal consequences in states where abortion is illegal or limited.

“These punitive state laws are seeking to go a step farther and trying to impose this legal cruelty on providers and health care advocates in other states. Bounty hunter laws have created a climate of fear and intimidation, and it will prevent Colorado health care workers from offering care and preventing patients who are trying to simply seek care,” said Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Longmont Democrat, who is one of the bill’s prime sponsors.

She pointed to a six-week abortion ban passed in Texas in 2021, which allows people to sue providers who “aid and abet” an abortion. A Colorado pharmacist who prescribes abortion medication to a pregnant person who then goes back to Texas could hypothetically be extradited and imprisoned or face a fine up to $100,000.

A bill moving through the Idaho Legislature, meanwhile, would make it a felony to transport a minor for an abortion without parental consent. It includes a civil enforcement provision so people could sue providers. Experts testified on Wednesday that these “bounty hunter” laws will become the new norm in the post-Roe landscape.

The bill anticipates that legal reality. It would codify an executive order signed last summer by Gov. Jared Polis that directs state agencies to withhold records from states that may go after people who receive or provide abortions in Colorado. It would also ban Colorado from recognizing criminal prosecutions or civil lawsuits regarding legally-protected abortion care.

Trio of abortion access protection bills clear Senate committees
Abortion rights supporters march in Denver in the wake of a leaked Supreme Court opinion that indicated justices would overturn Roe v. Wade, May 7, 2022. (Kevin Mohatt for Colorado Newsline)

Seven states and Washington D.C. have passed similar laws and Washington, New Mexico, Minnesota and Vermont are considering the legislation this year.

The bill extends those protections to people seeking gender-affirming care in Colorado, as many states attempt to limit that health care for transgender people.

Opponents argued that Colorado should respect the laws of other states.

“If a Wisconsin physician was actively performing conversion therapy, prescribing drugs via telehealth to a Colorado resident to try to change their orientation, should Colorado have no recourse to enforce our laws against conversion therapy? Of course not,” said Tom Perille, a physician with Democrats for Life Colorado. Conversion therapy is illegal in Colorado.

SB-188 passed on a 3-2 party line vote and now heads to the entire Senate for consideration.

A bill that would prohibit deceptive advertising from anti-abortion centers, sometimes referred to as crisis pregnancy centers, also made it through committee Wednesday.

Those centers, often religiously affiliated, counsel pregnant people to not seek abortion care. Bill sponsors said they often pose as comprehensive health care clinics in order to intercept pregnant people seeking abortion care.

Deceptive advertising practices

Senate Bill 23-190 would ban them from advertising abortions, emergency contraceptives or referrals to those services that they don’t actually provide.

Additionally, it would ban advertising of a so-called “abortion pill reversal treatment” that experts say is not rooted in scientific evidence.

“When someone is making a decision to continue or end a pregnancy, they deserve accurate information about all of their options so they can determine what is best for their health and wellbeing,” said bill sponsor Sen. Janice Marchman, a Loveland Democrat. “All people have the right to truth in advertising and shouldn’t have to worry about being misled or deceived when seeking essential health care services.

“These clinics use disinformation, intimidation, shame and delay tactics to withhold essential and time-sensitive reproductive health care that members of the community deserve,” she added.

In practice, the clinics would not be allowed to do things like minimize or omit disclaimers that they don’t offer or refer to abortion care while advertising that they offer “all-options” pregnancy services. They couldn’t pose in advertisements as full-range reproductive health care clinics.

The centers “exist to coerce people,” said Shannon Russell with Catholics for Choice. “Coercion is not health care.”

Critics of the bill and supporters of the centers denied that they mislead patients and said the legislation could unfairly limit them.

That bill also passed on a 3-2 party line vote and heads to the full Senate.

Insurance requirements

A third bill, Senate Bill 23-189, passed through committee Wednesday and would require most insurance plans to cover medication abortions, contraception, vasectomies and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

Large employer plans would need to have that coverage beginning in 2025. Individual and small group plans would need to provide the coverage pending federal approval.

“We need to take Colorado from legal to accessible,” said Sen. Lisa Cutter, a Democrat from Morrison and one of the bill’s prime sponsors.

Bill supporters argued that it would make it easier for people to seek and obtain reproductive care, while critics said the mandate could face legal challenges over a prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortions.

The bill was referred to the Appropriations Committee on a 6-3 vote.