An abortion rights protest is held outside the state Capitol in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, in Denver.

Democratic lawmakers moved closer toward making Colorado a sanctuary state for abortion access on Thursday, announcing the introduction of three bills that seek to bolster abortion-right laws. 

If passed, the bills would shield abortion patients and providers from interstate investigations, expand insurance coverage for abortion care, and prohibit what supporters claim to be deceptive advertising from crisis pregnancy centers. Critics of the latter have labeled them “anti-abortion clinics.”

These bills come after Colorado lawmakers enshrined abortion as a fundamental right with the Reproductive Health Equity Act last year, shortly before the Supreme Court decision overturning abortion rights was released. Among the most permissive abortion laws in the country, it prohibits state and local public entities from restricting a person's right to continue a pregnancy, have an abortion or use or refuse contraception, and declares that fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses do not have independent rights.

Sen. Julie Gonzales, who led RHEA and is one of the driving forces behind the new package of abortion bills, said the Supreme Court's decision in June and subsequent abortion bans in nearly half of U.S. states inspired her and other Democrats to take action.

“I spent a little bit of time being mad, then we stopped being mad and got to work,” Gonzales, D-Denver, said. “I don’t care what other states are doing in their race to the bottom ... in Colorado, we’ve got your back.”

Gonzales sponsored the bill that seeks to protect abortion patients and providers from interstate investigations, along with Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, Rep. Meg Froelich and Rep. Brianna Titone.

The bill builds off an executive order signed by Gov. Jared Polis in July, directing state agencies to withhold records from states that may impose criminal or civil penalties on those who receive or provide abortions in Colorado. The bill would enshrine this executive order into state law, as well as prohibit the state from recognizing criminal prosecutions or civil lawsuits regarding legally-protected abortion care.

In addition to abortion, the bill would also extend these protections to "gender-affirming care" received by transgender individuals. Other states have moved to ban or limit gender-affirming care, with more than 20 states considering such legislation in 2023. Gender-affirming care includes social, psychological or medical interventions, such as hormone therapy and surgical procedures.

“Across the country, and even right here in Colorado, our fundamental freedoms are constantly under attack from harmful transphobic rhetoric, anti-gay bills and egregious attempts to limit who we are,” Titone said. “In Colorado, we say, ‘No more.’”

The second bill targets crisis pregnancy centers, which counsel pregnant women against having an abortion and to instead choose to carry the pregnancy to term, with parenting or adoption as an alternative.

The American Medical Society Journal of Ethics called the centers unethical, claiming they spread misinformation and give the impression that they offer medical services and advice, “yet they are exempt from regulatory, licensure, and credentialing oversight that apply to health care facilities." A 2012 study from the National Library of Medicine claimed that 86% of the centers provide misinformation on abortion.

Supporters of crisis pregnancy centers argue that they legitimately provide services, including health education, ultrasound and counseling. They also argue that to call them "fake" clinics is a smear campaign perpetuated by abortion providers, and the centers legitimately provide services, including health education, ultrasound and counseling.

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In Colorado, there are 51 of these crisis pregnancy centers, compared to 20 abortion clinics.

Bill sponsors — Sen. Faith Winter, Sen. Janice Marchman, Rep. Karen McCormick and Rep. Elisabeth Epps — said the centers pretend to offer abortion care but don’t, using "disinformation, intimidation and delay tactics" to prevent people from accessing abortion care.

“These are fake clinics that lure in vulnerable people seeking care,” Marchman, D-Loveland, said. “They peddle biased and inaccurate information about abortion care and contraceptives, and they take advantage of people during some of their most vulnerable moments. Simply put, they lie. And that’s unacceptable.”

The bill would prohibit crisis pregnancy centers from using what supporters describe as deceptive advertising and would classify providing "abortion reversal treatments,” which have been widely discredited by the medical community, as unprofessional conduct.

Carolyn Reeves of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which litigates religious questions before the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote last year that to accuse pregnancy centers of "not offering legitimate care to women is false and self-serving, and worst of all, it misinforms women." She added: "It intentionally tells women that only one choice — abortion — is viable. Women deserve more than that."

Finally, the third bill applies Medicaid’s non-emergent medical transportation service to abortion services and close gaps in insurance coverage for health care treatment regarding abortion, sterilization, sexually transmitted infections and other reproductive health issues.

The bill creates a state fund that providers can bill directly for their patient’s reproductive health care services to protect patient privacy on shared insurance coverage. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Dominick Moreno, Sen. Lisa Cutter, Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Rep. Lorena Garcia.

Republican lawmakers criticized the bill package on Thursday, with the House GOP group releasing the following statement:

“Colorado has the most extreme abortion laws in the country. Yet that’s not enough for Democrats’ political agenda. Democrats are focused on more abortion legislation to make sure you have to pay for it and you don't have a choice.”

But with the expanded Democratic majority in both the House and Senate after the November election, Republicans are all but powerless to stop the bill package from passing.

All three of the bills will be introduced in the Senate by the end of the day Thursday, sponsors said. If passed, the bills will then advance to the House. Gonzales said the bill sponsors worked very closely with Polis while developing the legislation over the past several months. 

“We look forward to seeing this package, all of the bills in this package, being signed into law,” Gonzales said.

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