One year after Dobbs in Colorado: More out-of-state patients and a push to protect abortion care
When the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Clinic decision overturned the constitutional right to an abortion last June, Colorado Democrats were already working to secure access to reproductive healthcare in the state. They had passed legislation that spring codifying the right to an abortion in state law, but with federal protections gone, they knew they had to do more.
“All the legislators and all the advocates [were] thinking about reproductive rights and thinking about how do we protect abortion care in Colorado,” state Sen. Sonia Jaquez-Lewis said as she recalled the moment the Dobbs decision dropped.
Over the year since, Democrats have strengthened their majorities in both the state Senate and House of Representatives. That, coupled with a Democratic governor, allowed the party to pass a package of reproductive health bills this year. However, as other states continue to take steps restricting abortion in the wake of the Dobbs decision, Colorado lawmakers want to do more to expand and protect access.
“Abortion is healthcare,” Jaquez-Lewis said. “And so I think that the future is really increasing personal freedoms and increasing quality health care and access to quality health care.”
One of this year’s new state laws blocks crisis pregnancy centers from using deceiving advertising and offering unproven abortion reversal treatments. That's currently on hold due to a legal challenge in federal court.
Two other laws took effect earlier this year. One requires that private insurance companies cover abortions. The other shields out-of-state patients seeking abortions or gender-affirming care, and their providers, from interstate prosecution. The latter is a response to the influx of patients coming to Colorado for abortions from states that have criminalized reproductive healthcare in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
“That is really reassuring to people on the ground,” Dr. Nancy Fang, a Colorado OB-GYN and family planning provider, said. “It shows us that people at the legislative level are thinking about us, and that they care about the patients and the providers who are trying to protect reproductive health.”
Fang provides abortions and contraception services at the Aurora-based Comprehensive Women’s Health Center and has personally experienced the surge in patients coming to Colorado for abortions from other states that have criminalized reproductive healthcare.
“At least once a week, if not more, I have a patient from Texas asking me for advice about what happens if something goes wrong and I need to seek medical care in the state when I go home,” Fang said. “I've had patients who have done multiple trips to Colorado because they don't trust anybody in their home state.”
More than a dozen states have fully banned abortions, including Colorado neighbors Oklahoma and Texas, with partial bans in a number of others, like Arizona and Utah. At Planned Parenthood’s Colorado clinics, 37% of abortion patients are now from out of state compared to only 12% before last year’s Supreme Court ruling.
“When that patient comes into our health center after driving for as long as 12 hours just to get to care, she is so grateful,” Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains CEO Adrienne Mansanares said. “We have a welcoming environment and champions who've been elected to protect the right of reproductive health care.”
Mansanares credited Colorado’s political trajectory in recent years for setting up the state as a haven for reproductive healthcare. However, she and other advocates also said there’s more work to be done to shore up access here for people that fall through the cracks.
“People with money and people of wealth have been able to figure out how to access an abortion, whether they're in Texas or Colorado,” Karen Middleton, president of reproductive rights organization Cobalt, said. “People who don't have access to resources, don't have access to the information, don't have health insurance, are very often left behind.”
Many of those are people of color, rural Coloradans and the unhoused. The Colorado constitution blocks the use of public money for abortions, which means Medicaid recipients and state employees can’t use their healthcare benefits to cover the procedures.
Cobalt, Planned Parenthood and other advocates like the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), are working with Democratic lawmakers on a ballot measure to remove the public funding ban by amending the state constitution to guarantee reproductive healthcare access and ensure that all insurance covers abortions.
COLOR President Dusti Gurule said the measure is an important way to protect abortion access against future political shifts in the state legislature and governor’s office.
“Depending on the whims of our electeds, we want to ensure that this is something that is non-negotiable,” she said.
The measure’s authors plan to put it on the ballot in 2024.
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