A view of the Colorado Capitol in Denver on March 23, 2023. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
House Democrats are set to advance a trio of bills to bolster reproductive health care and abortion access in Colorado.
Senate Bill 23-190, which would ban deceptive advertising for anti-abortion centers, passed on a voice vote on second reading on Thursday evening. Senate Bill 23-188, which would protect providers and patients coming to Colorado for reproductive health care, passed on second reading Friday afternoon. Lawmakers started debate shortly before 6 p.m. Friday on second reading of Senate Bill 23-189, which would require insurance carriers to cover abortions, and it is almost certain to pass as well.
The three bills cleared the Senate last week.
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Democrats, who hold a large majority in both chambers, introduced the package to support abortion and reproductive rights in the state following the rollback of abortion rights when the U.S. Supreme Court last summer overturned Roe v. Wade.
While Colorado codified the right to abortion in the state before that decision, the state has become a destination for patients seeking abortion care in surrounding states that have banned or severely limited the procedure.
Democratic leadership moved to prevent a Republican filibuster on the three bills before debate even began. House Speaker Julie McCluskie invoked Rule 14, just as she did last weekend to limit debate on a firearm bill package, to allow up to eight hours of debate on SB-190 and six hours of debate each on SB-188 and SB-189.
All Republicans voted against limiting debate Friday, as did three Democrats: Rep. Elisabeth Epps of Denver, Rep. Mary Young of Greeley and Rep. Matthew Martinez of Monte Vista.
Third reading and final approval of the bills was tentatively set for Saturday.
SB-190 would prohibit anti-abortion centers, referred to as crisis pregnancy centers by supporters, from advertising services they do not actually provide, such as abortions, referrals or emergency contraceptives. Additionally, it would most likely classify attempts at medication abortion reversal as unprofessional, unless the Colorado Medical Board, the State Board of Pharmacy and the state Board of Nursing all decide it’s an accepted standard of practice.
“It should be disturbing that we have to legislate reminding our care providers to tell the truth,” bill sponsor Epps said.
Colorado has 51 anti-abortion centers, which are often faith-based, and 20 abortion clinics. The centers work to counsel pregnant people against abortion and advocate adoption or parenting instead. They often offer pregnancy support and education.
Bill supporters say that the centers mislead or deceive pregnant people about their actual function and that declaring abortion reversal unprofessional would protect pregnant people from an unfounded medical practice. Opponents argued that the sites, as well as the abortion reversal method, provide more options for pregnant people.
“We should give these women as many choices and options as possible and let them decide what they want to do. Taking away the freedom to choose life is not good legislation,” Assistant Minority Leader Rose Pugliese, a Colorado Springs Republican, said.
Protections bill to update definition of reproductive care
SB-188 would protect providers in Colorado and patients who travel to the state for abortion and gender-affirming care because their home state does not allow it. It would prohibit Colorado from recognizing litigation and prosecution in other states regarding legally-protected health care.
Since Roe was overturned, 13 states have enacted abortion bans. Some, like Texas, also have in place so-called “bounty hunter laws” that empower and incentivize private citizens to sue people who have had an abortion and the people who helped them.
The Democratic sponsors of the bill offered an amendment early in the day to add gender-affirming care into the definition of reproductive health care to make sure the language conforms with the intent of the bill.
This came after Republicans, as reported by Colorado Politics, argued that the bill was unconstitutional because it dealt with two subjects — abortion and gender affirming care. Bills in the Colorado Legislature must only relate to a single subject.
House Minority Leader Mike Lynch said the amendment made the bill “shaky-at-best constitutional.”
“This is really two different bills. This stretch of the definition tries to shove it into being constitutional,” he said.
Democrats defended the amendment by saying gender-affirming care and reproductive health care are both about bodily autonomy and often involve the same medical professionals.
The amendment passed on a voice vote.
A significant portion of the debate on the bill Friday revolved around the gender-affirming care component of the bill. Gender-affirming care refers to social and medical treatment for transgender people, such as hormone therapy. Leading medical organizations recognize the care as medically necessary.
Many of the same states that banned abortion or are working to do so are also considering legislation to limit gender affirming care.
“I wish that the lawmakers in these other states would trust the people to do what’s right and best for themselves in consultation with their physicians, but this is what it’s come to,” Titone said.
Republicans argued that gender-affirming care shouldn’t be grouped with abortion, and that protecting care for out-of-state patients could have negative consequences, especially for minors who might come to get care they can’t access in their home state.
“There are many bills across this country where states are saying ‘No. This goes too far.’ Are all those states in the union wrong? The answer is no,” Rep. Richard Holtorf, a Republican of Akron, said. “Youth should not have the ability at 12, 13, 14, 15 to go down this dangerous path that involves irreversible surgeries.”
Gender-affirming surgeries for people under 18 are exceedingly rare and, according to medical protocols, are pursued only on a case-by-case basis and after consultation with health providers and family.
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