The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade, which holds that the right to have an abortion is protected by the Constitution, but that won’t change the law in Colorado.
But the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision, first reported by Politico, could still drastically undercut the already stretched abortion landscape in Colorado, leading to an even higher maternal mortality rate, experts and reproductive rights advocates say. That’s something for which they’ve been preparing.
“This is what we feared would happen, what we knew was inevitable,” Aurea Bolaños Perea, of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, said.
What will happen to abortion in Colorado now?
In the immediate sense, if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe, abortion will remain legal in Colorado. Lawmakers enshrined that right in state law last month.
“Don’t panic,” Laura Chapin, of Cobalt Abortion Fund, a nonprofit that provides funding for abortion care, said. “Please keep your appointments. Abortion is still legal. Don’t do anything differently.”
Not only will abortion remain legal in Colorado but few restrictions exist as well, Chapin said. There is no mandatory waiting period for anyone wanting one, like other states have, nor are there any gestational restrictions. Colorado is one of the few states in which later abortions are available.
If a minor is seeking an abortion a medical provider is required to notify their parents – with several exceptions – though their parents can’t stop the procedure, Chapin said.
However, efforts to overturn abortion rights in the state might become more common, according to Jack Teter, regional director of government affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
A signature collection effort is already underway to place an abortion ban on Colorado’s November ballot this year. That effort is called “Unlawful Murder of a Child.”
That effort and others like it are unlikely to succeed, Teter said.
“We had four of these in the last decade… and they’ve been defeated multiple times by enormous margins,” he said. “The voters of Colorado don’t support abortion bans and they’re not going to vote for this.”
What restrictions does Colorado have on abortion?
Perhaps the largest restriction on abortion in Colorado comes from a constitutional amendment narrowly passed in 1984, which prohibits public money being used to pay for the procedure, Chapin said.
“You cannot use state funding or Medicaid for an abortion,” she said. “You have to pay for it on your own.”
To that end, a variety of abortion funding providers like Cobalt, the Lilith Fund and La Frontera Fund, help people pay for abortions, Bolaños Perea said.
Teter said plans are already underway for an effort to repeal that initiative in 2024.
What resources are available for women seeking abortion in Colorado?
Independent funding sources will become all the more important, Bolaños Perea said, because legality does not equate to accessibility. Even in Colorado, many face barriers to receiving an abortion.
Often they can’t afford the procedure, which Chapin estimated might cost $400 in the first trimester, or transportation to and from a clinic. Most of the state’s abortion providers are grouped along the Front Range, she said, so often transportation must be accompanied by a hotel stay.
The majority of people seeking abortions already have children, Chapin added, so they might also have to pay for childcare while they seek the procedure.
If the forthcoming Supreme Court decision underscores the need in Colorado for those funding resources, it also sets the state aside as an island of reproductive rights in the region.
Will people seeking abortion come to Colorado from other states?
Idaho, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and South Dakota all have “trigger laws” or abortion bans activated if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Nebraska and Kansas also have abortion restrictions in place.
Because of Colorado’s abortion rights, providers in the state are likely to be stretched further by an influx of patients coming from out of state, Bolaños Perea said. Medical providers were already working to meet an increase in out-of-state patients during the pandemic.
Not only will abortions be difficult for out-of-state patients to obtain, but also the increase in patients means that patients seeking them in Colorado will have a more difficult time, Dr. Stephani Mischell, an abortion provider in Dallas, said.
Because Texas’ abortion laws severely tightened recently Mischell said she is already helping to send patients out of state, often to Colorado, to receive an abortion. Those efforts will only increase, she said.
Less access to abortions will ultimately translate to an uptick in deaths, Mischell said.
“Maternal mortality in this country is abysmally high, especially for people of color,” she said. “This is a real threat to peoples’ lives.”
Not only does that mean more doctors will be needed to perform abortions but also front line staff to set appointments and clinic escorts to protect patients from protestors, who hurl profanities and wave signs outside of clinics.
Thinking about the drastic increase of patients and limited medical staff, the math just doesn’t work out, Teter said.
“Ask any large hospital network ‘Hey, can you absorb 100,000 more patients?’” he said. “We are about to see a nationwide reproductive health access catastrophe that will be felt in every state in the country.”
“We need to look at how we can offer more of these services, the resources are out there,” Bolaños Perea said. “How can we make sure that if people do seek care in Colorado they aren’t turned away?”
Anyone outside of Colorado who needs help traveling for an abortion in state should reach out to the wide variety of fundraising sources, which also include Keep Our Clinics, Bolaños Perea said. A broader list of abortion funds can be found online at secure.actblue.com. Those looking for legitimate clinics and to avoid “crisis pregnancy centers,” which seek to talk women out of abortions rather than providing any medical service, can search online at ineedana.com.
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