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Explainer: Abortion access in Colorado and how it could be affected by the Supreme Court

AP Poll Abortion
Posted at 10:22 AM, Dec 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 12:23:12-05

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Supreme Court is hearing a case that could overturn the law of the land, Roe v. Wade, on abortions.

Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, and then reaffirmed in 1992 in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. The two court cases affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion up to the point of viability, which the court placed between 23 and 24 weeks.

The case going before the Supreme Court today, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, would ban abortion after 15 weeks, which would overturn the legal precedent around abortions and severely weaken a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 22 states have laws on their books already that could restrict access to abortion if the Supreme Court overturns the precedent set in Roe v. Wade.

Twelve of these states have laws restricting abortion that will go into effect nearly immediately if Roe v Wade is overturned. The states are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

Abortion restrictions in the US

On the other side, 14 states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect the right to abortion, mostly prior to viability. The 14 states are Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Of those, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington D.C. are the only ones that protect the right to an abortion throughout pregnancy, rather than viability.

States with abortion protections

Now there’s a notable exception to both of those lists, our own state of Colorado. So, what are Colorado’s abortion laws currently, and how could they be affected if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade?

Current Colorado abortion laws 

As it stands, Colorado is one of the most permissive states when it comes to a woman’s access to abortions. Colorado is one of just seven states that does not impose any limits on abortions past the viability of the fetus at around 22 weeks, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Further, there is no mandatory waiting period in Colorado for an abortion procedure.

This has not always been the case, and it is not without controversy within the state. There have been a number of ballot initiatives and bills proposed that would limit abortion access in the state.

The most recent was a ballot initiative in 2020 that attempted to restrict abortion access after 22 weeks, but the initiative failed to pass.

Women in Colorado also have the right to obtain an abortion without their partners, and in the case of minors, their parent’s permission. However, minors, outside of specific circumstances, do have to notify their parents of their intent to obtain an abortion.

When obtaining an abortion, women are protected from harassment by Colorado’s ‘bubble bill’ that prevents someone from approaching within 8 feet without that person’s consent 100 feet from a health care facility.

There are some restrictions when it comes to paying for an abortion. According to NARAL, a pro-choice organization, Medicaid will only pay for abortions if the woman is endangered by a medical condition, the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or if the abortion poses a serious threat to the woman’s life.

Private insurance companies in Colorado do not have to provide coverage for abortion, and state employees’ insurance plans will only cover abortions if they are necessary to save a woman’s life.

Abortions in Colorado by the numbers 
The data cited below comes from the Guttmacher Institute. 

In 2017, just over 12,000 abortions were provided in Colorado, which is a 10 percent decline in the abortion rate between 2014 and 2017. However, since Colorado is one of the few states that provides late-term abortions, not all of those who obtained an abortion in Colorado are state residents.

In the same year, there were 32 facilities providing abortion services in Colorado, a decrease from 36 in 2014.

There is also a lack of access to clinics that provide abortions in Colorado, as over 80 percent of Colorado counties do not have a clinics that practice abortions. About 27 percent of Colorado women live in those counties, according to data from 2017.

What could change? 

Despite Colorado’s comparable lack of restrictions on abortion access, “state law does not expressly protect abortion,” according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. The state courts in Colorado have also not ruled on whether the state constitution protects a right to abortion.

There are some indications, however, that attitudes among Colorado’s public and the legislature are largely in favor of protecting abortion access in the state, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

In 2013, Colorado repealed a pre-Roe ban on abortion, and in 2020, nearly 60 percent of voters opposed a prohibition on abortions after 22 weeks.

In 2021, Governor Polis signed into law a bill that relaxed some restrictions on public funding of abortions. SB142 allows any licensed provider, not just those in certain health care facilities, to receive state funds in the case of an abortion that is deemed as medically necessary.

A Pew poll conducted on Coloradans' attitudes toward abortion also shows strong support for abortion to remain legal in all or most cases. 59 percent of Coloradans believe abortion should remain legal in all or most cases, and only 36 percent believe it should be illegal in all or most cases.

At least in the short term, it is unlikely that abortion access in Colorado will be changed by the court decision.

What could change is the amount of women traveling from out of state to receive an abortion procedure in Colorado.

This year, following a law in Texas that banned most abortions after 6 weeks, the Park Hill clinic in Denver saw a nearly 500 percent increase in Texans seeking abortion care in the month following the law’s passage, according to Vicki Cowart, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

If more restrictions go in place as expected following the return of Roe v. Wade, there is a high chance that the number of women traveling to Colorado for abortion care could increase even more.

Alasyn Zimmerman contributed to this article.
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