Governor Jared Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act into law today. The new legislation will codify protections on abortion and reproductive rights. At the same time, those rights are being challenged in some conservative states as the nation awaits rulings on two key abortion cases by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Texas banned abortion for pregnancies beyond six weeks in September. Since then, patients from Texas have been heading out of state for the procedure. According to Planned Parenthood, Colorado and Oklahoma respectively saw 1,000% and 2,500% increases in abortion patients from Texas since the ban went into effect.
Should the Supreme Court’s conservative majority rule against legal precedent and weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion rights advocates estimate 26 Republican-led states would likely accelerate moves to either ban or severely restrict the procedure. Many conservative states already have abortion bans on the books from before 1973 with so-called trigger laws that would automatically ban abortion in their states should Roe be rescinded.
There are two anti-abortion bills in the Oklahoma Legislature under consideration, one that is comparable to the Texas ban and the other that would ban all abortions, with exception to procedures where the pregnant person’s life was at risk.
Colorado borders five conservative states: Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah. Conservative states like Texas and the Dakotas are also relatively close. Women living in areas where abortion is unavailable could turn to states like Colorado, where access to safe abortions is now assured regardless of the high court’s ruling.
Colorado abortion providers fear an influx of out-of-state women could overwhelm an already strained health system and endanger women’s lives.
“[Inaccessibility] creates a dangerous medical situation for patients and for communities and for all the reproductive health aged individuals in our country,” said vice president and medical director of Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains, Dr. Kristina Tocce. “The evidence is clear. When patients can access abortion care, individual health outcomes are better, health outcomes for communities are better. And we’re going against that evidence and creating an unstable medical environment for a huge population in our country.”
Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains, which covers clinical affiliates in New Mexico, Wyoming, Southern Nevada, and Colorado, has spent the last three years planning a multi-pronged approach to ensuring access and addressing the anticipated surge of patients. This includes utilizing innovative approaches to service delivery, such as telemedicine, and providing flexible options to patients that can free up appointments in health centers for individuals who need in-person visits and procedures.
However, providers are worried a sudden surge in demand from out-of-state women could create supply and financial constraints—which would disproportionately impact younger women, women of color, and low-income women.
The CDC estimates that unintended pregnancies disproportionately impact women who:
- Are aged 18-24 years
- Have incomes below the federal poverty level
- Are non-Hispanic black or African American
- Are unmarried but cohabiting
“Tragically, young women of color in particular have more limited access to quality or affordable maternal and prenatal care, and are more likely than white women to be uninsured,” reads the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Young Women Amicus Brief (2021) in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. “A report by YWCA found that women who do not receive prenatal care are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes.”
Calls are growing for more support to ensure abortion is safe and accessible for all women, both from within and outside of Colorado. Only three clinics in Albuquerque, New Mexico currently provide abortion care. Kansas has four clinics. Tocce acknowledges the sheer volume of women seeking abortions from out of state is “formidable” and that providers will not be able to serve every patient that needs abortion care.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America recently received a $275 million donation from billionaire philanthropist and novelist MacKenzie Scott. Officials say the much-needed funding will go to expansion efforts, infrastructure, and staffing investments that can support increased patient needs. The organization has been expanding its financial support net to cover the procedure and its related costs, like transportation and hotel accommodations.
“The Reproductive Health Equity Act assures that there will be access for patients in Colorado. [MacKenzie Scott’s gift] assures that we will be able to keep the doors of Planned Parenthood and Rocky Mountains not just open but expand services and make things even better for patients and for more patients, which we’re going to need to do in the future,” said Tocce, speaking on the clinical services provided in Colorado, New Mexico and Southern Nevada. “It will be such a widespread impact in a place where we can really be a regional hub for abortion access.”