As some states move to pass the harshest abortion restrictions seen in decades, Colorado remains one of a handful of states where reproductive rights are safest.
But local reproductive rights advocates are warning that it could happen here, too, if Coloradans aren’t careful.
“We’re not safe in Colorado either,” said Vicki Cowart, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, in an interview with the Colorado Times Recorder. “We’re in good shape right now because people have worked very hard to express their support for healthcare and women’s access to reproductive health care, and they’ve held their elected officials to that standard, but it’s still not a done deal, and it could happen here.”
Colorado has no major restrictions on abortion or laws that would spring into effect to restrict abortion should Roe be overturned.
But unlike a handful of progressive states, Colorado has no affirmative protections for abortion rights in state law or the state’s constitution, either. That means state lawmakers have the power to either restrict abortion rights or ensure they’re protected.
With a pro-choice governor and Democratic majorities in both chambers of the state’s legislature, there’s no immediate threat to abortion rights in Colorado. But Cowart says that could always change if anti-abortion lawmakers get elected.
“Abortion access is very safe [in Colorado] today, but there’s an election soon, and everything can switch out at any given election,” Cowart explained.
Although they don’t have much legislative power, anti-abortion lawmakers have been consistently active in Colorado, and show no signs of slowing down any time soon.
For example, an even more extreme abortion ban than the one recently passed in Alabama has been introduced in Colorado’s legislature for the past several years, including this year.
Like the new Alabama law, it would make all abortions except for those that are necessary to save the life of the mother a felony punishable by life imprisonment, and contains no exceptions for rape or incest. But the Colorado bill goes even further in defining life as beginning at conception, thereby establishing “fetal personhood,” or the conferring of legal rights to zygotes (or fertilized eggs) and fetuses.
Colorado Republicans have also pushed legislation to limit access to abortion by imposing mandatory waiting periods and ultrasounds, and prohibiting the widely used “dilation and evacuation” method, which makes up 95 percent of abortions performed during the second trimester.
“We should be paying attention, and we should know that these bills are being introduced and we should name names as to the people who have introduced them and are voting for them,” said Cowart. “We know that the majority of Coloradans support access to abortion care and support more access to health care in general, but we continue to elect legislators that play around with this dangerous and potentially damaging suite of legislation, so I think people should know that and I think people should pay attention to it.”
Support for abortion rights does appear strong among Colorado voters, as evidenced by the fact that voters have handily defeated three ballot measures that would have enshrined fetal personhood in Colorado’s constitution, most recently in 2014.
Still, Colorado voters could be asked to weigh in again in 2020. A ballot measure that has been filed and is currently pending review for next year’s election aims to restrict so-called “late-term” abortions by banning the procedure after 22 weeks gestation. Conservatives nationwide have recently been ramping up rhetoric around the small percentage of abortions that occur later in pregnancy, often spreading misinformation about the circumstances under which those procedures take place.
The state of abortion access in Colorado doesn’t just affect Coloradans, given that reproductive care is limited in surrounding states where those seeking abortions are required to travel.
“Even without this most recent round of legislation, we already see women from 34 different states,” Cowart said. “One day in our Albuquerque health center, there were only Texas patients. We live in a little wonderful bubble in Colorado because we are relatively safe, but the states around us already have awful restrictions, and so women sometimes have to drive to the next state over to receive abortion care.”
Cowart says PPRM is working on expanding in order to serve even more patients.
“We are moving into the realm of providing abortion in more places in Colorado, and going into providing later abortion care,” she said. “We have capabilities and doctors who know how to do this, so we’re increasing the number of weeks we can see people.”
She added that PPRM is also working on expanding access by using telemedicine to reach patients in more rural areas who can be approved to have a medication abortion.