Abortion providers make plea for more resources and protections as Colorado sees influx of patients

U.S. Rep. Crow participates in listening session with advocates and providers in Aurora

By: - August 25, 2022 5:00 am
Jason Crow

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow of Aurora speaks at an event to celebrate the opening of Colorado Democrats’ Aurora field office on June 28, 2022. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Sitting in a room with a group of abortion providers and advocates Wednesday at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, U.S. Rep. Jason Crow took diligent notes as the subject experts told him what they need to improve abortion access in Colorado. 

As the state has seen an influx of new patients following Roe v. Wade being overturned by the Supreme Court two months ago, Crow, a Centennial Democrat who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, said it’s helpful for him to understand what’s happening “on the ground” as he tries to persuade his colleagues in Congress to fight for abortion rights. 

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Crow expressed his intent to find legislative solutions to protect women’s health care data from states that are criminalizing abortion, as well as protect those in the armed services seeking abortion care. He said that the lack of abortion access in the country is a crisis, and that he didn’t think as an elected official he would see the day when a fundamental right was taken away from half of the country’s population.

“I know it doesn’t address the universe of the challenge, but certainly we’re trying to look at where we can move the needle when we can move it right now,” Crow said. “My job, I think, is just to support you and do everything possible within my power to make sure that you’re supported and we try to fix this egregious, egregious wrong.”

Providers’ perspectives

Dr. Aaron Lazorwitz, who specializes in obstetrics, gynecology and family planning at the Anschutz Medical Campus, shared how he came to Colorado to start his residency after completing medical school in Texas, because he knew he wanted to be learn about abortion and family planning. Now that he’s leading education in this sector at Anschutz, he said he receives frequent requests from physicians in other states to help educate their residents. 

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Lazorwitz said it’s the same with patients coming from other states, and he said without health care providers in those states receiving the proper training, it will only continue to get worse. 

“I think it’s a national issue of, these areas are not going to have the trained physicians that they need, and those of us in the fortunate states that can still teach, we can’t pick up the slack,” Lazorwitz said. “We’re trying, but we can’t.” 

Dr. Kristina Tocce, medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, gave Crow several key points she wanted to get across as the most critical to improve the situation for abortion providers and patients. 

First, Tocce said additional funding, so that more providers can see patients, is essential. She said with the influx of patients seeking abortion services, appointment wait times have increased for all patients, including those in need of birth control, cancer screenings, wellness exams and emergency contraception. It doesn’t matter if they are from another state or right around the corner — patients need to wait around three weeks.

Another common thread for all health care providers, Tocce mentioned her field’s need for more staff amid an “unprecedented demand on abortion services.” She also said clearly communicated protections for abortion care providers on a national level is imperative as well.

I am harassed every day when I walk into work, and so are my patients ... I have patients sobbing because they were harassed by a man on a bullhorn calling them a murderer, and that really takes a toll on an individual and makes people even more scared, providers and patients alike.

– Dr. Kristina Tocce, medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains

“There are so many individuals with real concerns about, ‘Are regulatory bodies going to stand behind me if there are vigilante groups pressing charges against me?’” Tocce said. “That is such an issue it may deter people from working in our field of medicine.”

Tocce also wants to see protections for patients who fear what could happen in their home state if they need to travel to a safe state, like Colorado, for an abortion. She said she “can’t stress enough” how scared patients are on top of the stress that already comes with paying and traveling to make a difficult medical decision. She said the same goes for providers facing harassment. 

“I am harassed every day when I walk into work, and so are my patients,” Toccee said. “I have patients sobbing because they were harassed by a man on a bullhorn calling them a murderer, and that really takes a toll on an individual and makes people even more scared, providers and patients alike.”

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow speaks while meeting with abortion providers Aug. 24, 2022, at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. (Lindsey Toomer/Colorado Newsline)

Finally, Tocce said she wants to ensure that patients who seek abortion care actually get it — which she said means investigating “fake centers that offer dangerous and falsely advertised services” such has medication abortion reversal. She said some of these centers are enrolled in Medicaid. 

Tocce wasn’t the last to mention the problems these centers create for abortion providers. Aurea Bolaños Perea, strategic communications director at the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, said these centers, often called crisis pregnancy centers, specifically target people of color and low-income people.

“They already outnumber abortion clinics three-to-one across the United States,” Bolaños Perea said. “They more than double our clinics here in the state of Colorado, and they work under the guise that they offer medical care.”

Bolaños Perea reiterated that just because abortion is protected as a right in Colorado, that doesn’t mean it’s equitable or accessible. She said the state will remain vulnerable until the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which protects abortion rights in Colorado and was signed into law this year, is enshrined in the state’s Constitution. 

“A core tenet of reproductive justice is that we have the human right to live in safe, healthy environments whether we decide to parent or not,” Bolaños Perea said. “Abortion access is one part of what we need to live a self-determined life. That means nothing when we don’t have access to safe housing, clean water, a legal right to live and work here, transportation, child care, and so much more.”

Christina Soliz, political director at COLOR, noted the importance of ensuring federal and state funding can be used to help with abortion access. She also emphasized the importance of using non-gendered language and making sure culturally competent abortion care is available in a person’s native language.  

Kelsey Laurer, an Army veteran and certified nurse-midwife who also teaches at Anschutz, said she’s been working to get midwives into the university-affiliated abortion clinic, but she wants to see advanced practice providers like midwives, nurse practitioners and physician assistants be able to provide abortion services as well.

Laurer said ideally she would like to see funding allocated so advanced practice providers can get the training necessary to be able to provide abortions and help the with demand physicians are facing. She said it took many months of coordinating with the clinic to get just a few of these providers in to help with abortion care part-time. 

“The majority of abortions in Colorado are medication abortions, and I think it makes sense for advanced practice providers to pick up a piece of that burden,” Laurer said. “It’s just really hard when there isn’t anything streamlined as far as education in schools. We don’t get the exposure to either provide medication or … aspiration abortions like we can to the extent of our license.”

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Lindsey Toomer
Lindsey Toomer

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Newsline. She formerly reported on city government at the Denver Gazette and on Colorado mountain town government, education and environment at the Summit Daily News. Toomer graduated from the Pennsylvania State University, where she also served as managing editor of The Daily Collegian, with degrees in journalism and global studies.

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