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How the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will affect abortion access in Colorado

Anti-abortion protesters celebrate Friday after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the federally protected right to abortion, outside the Supreme Court in Washington. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press)
In Colorado, there will continue to be very few abortion restrictions

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday morning overturned Roe v. Wade, ending nearly five decades of federal abortion protections.

The vote was 6-3. Justice Samuel Alito authored the majority opinion, which was signed by the other conservative justices on the court: Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Chief Justice John Roberts authored a concurring opinion, saying he would have preferred to ban abortion after 15 weeks without gutting Roe.

The court’s liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissented.

What does this mean?

States can now decide if or how they want to restrict abortion access, including whether to ban the procedure altogether.

Some states, like Colorado, have already taken steps to codify the right to an abortion while others have teed up so-called “trigger laws” to automatically restrict or ban abortions if the Supreme Court undercuts Roe v. Wade.

It’s unclear if or by how much the number of people receiving abortions in the U.S. will decrease, but about half of states are expected to enact bans.

After Texas banned abortions starting around six weeks – and empowered citizens anywhere to sue those who help someone get an abortion – many patients still were able to end their pregnancies, researchers found. Some went to other states. Others ordered pills online to induce an abortion.

Pill-induced abortions now account for more than half of all abortions in the country, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research group. The method allows patients to terminate their pregnancy in the privacy of their home and can help overcome barriers to accessing an abortion in a clinic, such as travel costs or needing to find child care. The use of abortion-inducing pills has increased over time but was “likely accelerated” by the pandemic, according to the Guttmacher report.

In Colorado, pill-induced abortions made up 57% of abortions in 2017 and 68% by 2021, according to state health department data.

Will anything change in Colorado?

Colorado providers are expected to see a big increase in patients crossing state lines to receive abortions.

After Texas in September banned abortions starting around six weeks, clinics in Colorado reported a significant increase in patients coming from the state.

Between September 2020 and May 2021, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains served 1,220 Texas abortion patients. That compares with 306 patients in the same eight-month period a year earlier, a nearly 300% increase.

State health data backs up the trend. Eighty-eight percent of abortions performed in Colorado in 2017 were for in-state residents. In 2021, that decreased to 86%.

Four hundred Texas residents received abortions in Colorado in 2021, the most from any state other than Wyoming.

Now that Roe v. Wade is overturned, about 20 states are expected to prohibit or restrict abortions, including many around Colorado. Oklahoma passed the country’s strictest abortion ban in May.

Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician now running for Congress, previously told The Colorado Sun she looked at a map of where abortion would be banned if the Roe v. Wade decision were struck down and saw that Colorado would be a “big island” of abortion access in the middle of the country.

Providers have said they’re trying to hire staff members to meet the increased demand but are already stretched thin, especially as more states have enacted abortion restrictions. That could make it more difficult for patients from out-of-state and in Colorado to get abortions.

Who will be most affected?

Abortion policy experts say those already disenfranchised are more likely to be affected by abortion bans.

That includes people who are low income, immigrants, people of color and young people, who don’t have the right to consent to an abortion in some states.

Those are the people for whom it is “hardest to get out of state and get an abortion,” Kate Coleman-Minahan, a University of Colorado College of Nursing professor who has researched abortion issues, previously told The Colorado Sun. “They may not actually be able to.”

That could expose them to health risks or dangers if they try to terminate a pregnancy on their own or carry the pregnancy to term.

Have Colorado lawmakers done anything to prepare?

Colorado lawmakers recently passed a law – the Reproductive Health Equity Act – that enshrines the right to an abortion and to birth control.

It also says embryos, fertilized eggs and fetuses don’t have “independent or derivative rights,” undercutting past attempts by anti-abortion groups to recognize “any human being from the moment of fertilization” as people in various provisions of Colorado law.

Voters rejected two such “personhood” initiatives in 2008 and 2010. They shot down a similar proposal in 2014 that would have recognized “unborn human beings” alongside people under state law, including in the criminal code.

You can see an annotated copy of the Colorado law here.

What are the current regulations on abortion in Colorado?

Colorado, which in 1967 became the first state to loosen its abortion laws, has among the nation’s fewest abortion restrictions.

There is no mandatory waiting period and no limit on when in a pregnancy the abortion can be performed.

But state funding does not cover abortions except in the cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. People on Medicaid and some forms of private insurance would have to pay out of pocket, which could be cost-prohibitive.

The cost of an abortion can range from around $500 to more than $1,000 depending on the clinic and the stage of pregnancy.

The parents of minors must also be notified 48 hours before an abortion is performed.

How are Colorado groups reacting?

Colorado Democrats and abortion rights groups quickly condemned the decision.

Republicans have “burst the door wide open to a dangerous future in America where women will no longer have the power to make their own choice to get an abortion,” Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Morgan Carroll said in a written statement.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, called the ruling a “momentous mistake” and outlined the drastic consequences he said it would have.

“In many states, women who are raped will be forced to continue the pregnancy, causing untold mental anguish and distress. Doctors providing abortions will be arrested and jailed. Women who cannot access abortion care will resort to desperate and dangerous measures to end a pregnancy, even in ways that threaten their health. Women who experience life-threatening conditions during pregnancy will die. And women of color will be disproportionately impacted,” Weiser said in a written statement. “These scenarios are now realities as laws in other states restricting abortion go into effect.”

He said abortion remains legal in Colorado and that his office would defend the recently passed Reproductive Health Equity Act in court if necessary.

Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said the state will “stand against government control over our bodies.”

“State leadership matters now more than ever and in Colorado we will not retreat to an archaic era where the powerful few controlled the freedoms over our bodies and health decisions,” he said.

Republicans, meanwhile, celebrated the ruling.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted: “LIFE WINS! Glory to God.”

Rep. Ken Buck wrote on Twitter: “VICTORY for the unborn and JUSTICE for federalism at SCOTUS.”

Colorado GOP chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown called it the “best day ever.”

“After decades of so many Americans fighting for every single life, today, the Supreme Court of the United States has finally declared that every child is worth saving,” she said in a written statement. “I hope this decision leads to a real conversation – between people on all sides – about how we as a country can best work together to further support our children, mothers and families.”

Read more at The Colorado Sun

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.