Colorado abortion providers and advocates say they expect to see more out-of-state patients here after a restrictive Texas law took effect early Wednesday, banning the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy.
“We have made plans to increase our capacity,” said Dr. Rebecca Cohen, a Denver OB-GYN. “We have, essentially, clinicians on reserve, people who are really devoted to increasing access and can provide additional services if needed.”
Abortion rights supporters in Colorado blasted Texas’ new law, which stands as the nation’s most restrictive, while anti-abortion advocates hailed it as a victory. The U.S. Supreme Court did not act late Tuesday on an emergency request to stop that state’s Senate Bill 8 from becoming law at midnight, but lawsuits challenging its legality are still pending.
Although Colorado’s abortion laws include limited restrictions, such as allowing public health insurance to cover the procedure only in certain instances, the state is considered among the most accessible in the country.
But the state’s major abortion-rights groups expressed worry about the potential fallout of the Texas law, especially as other states have rolled back access.
“The Supreme Court and the federal appeals court letting SB 8 stand represents a threat not just to patients and providers in Texas but to the constitutional right to abortion access across the country,” said Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt in Colorado, which advocates for abortion access. “We stand in solidarity with patients, providers and advocates in Texas.”
Opponents point out that the six-week threshold in Texas’ law is so early that many women don’t yet know they are pregnant. The law makes some exemptions for medical emergencies but not for cases of rape or incest.
Colorado’s state legislature, dominated by Democrats, passed bills this year that expanded access to reproductive care, including abortion. The state’s voters have decidedly rejected attempts to restrict abortion — most recently voting down last year’s Proposition 115, which would have imposed a ban after 22 weeks of pregnancy, 59% to 41%.
Aurea Bolaños Perea, communications and policy manager for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, said the Texas law could disproportionately affect the Black, Latino and Indigenous communities.
“This is why Colorado needs to continue to be the safe haven that it’s been for communities and to be a safe haven for abortion access in our state,” she said.
The Cobalt Abortion Fund, which provides financial assistance to women seeking abortions, says self-reported patient data shows that about 15% of the people who received help were from out of state. Last year, many of them came from Texas and Oklahoma at a time those states were adding abortion restrictions during the pandemic, fund director Amanda Carlson said.
The group is now preparing for more people to seek help.
Cohen said her practice saw an increase last year, as did doctors in other states that also considered abortion services essential. (Some states restricted access to the procedure during the pandemic.) But not all who contacted the clinics could afford to travel.
A more celebratory mood prevailed among anti-abortion advocates Wednesday. While the Colorado GOP declined an interview request, Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown tweeted, “It’s a beautiful day in Texas.”
Some Colorado abortion opponents were discussing their next move. One backer of Proposition 115, Giuliana Day, said she believes that the more Coloradans learn about abortions and available alternatives, the more likely they are to oppose it.
Though it’s too early to provide specifics about the next attempt to change Colorado law, she said, “we are organizing and getting the word out about the effects of abortion.”
But the other side stands ready. If anything like Texas’ law is proposed, Middleton said in her statement, “we will defeat it, just as we have defeated every other attempt to ban abortion in Colorado.”
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