Abortion rights advocates in Colorado prepare for more legal challenges

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld access to abortion medication but anti-abortion advocates say the fight is not over.
Abortion rights rally at Colorado State Capitol
Posted at 6:25 PM, Jun 13, 2024

DENVER — While abortion rights advocates are thankful for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold access to abortion medication, they expect more challenges to abortion access on many fronts.

"That is a win for access, but it's only a reprieve because the anti-abortion majority on the Supreme Court has made it very clear — even in that decision — that they will entertain another challenge to the validity of the FDA's approval of mifepristone if they can get a better plaintiff," said Dani Newsum, Cobalt's director of strategic partnerships. "It's not a celebration."

That’s why they’re hoping to strengthen abortion protections in states like Colorado, where abortion remains legal.

For Lauren Miller, the last few years have been an emotional rollercoaster. It started when she learned she was pregnant with twins.

"We were shocked but excited,” Miller said.

But at her 12-week ultrasound appointment, she learned one of the twins was not developing.

“The main thing that we saw was that he had fluid where most of his brain should have been developing. And we went through more testing, more ultrasounds, and we just kept getting worse and worse news,” said Miller.

Her doctor said she’d have to have an abortion to protect her life and the life of the other twin. But because she lived in Texas, where abortion is illegal, it meant she’d have to travel out of state.

“We fortunately had connections to a doctor in Denver and we were able to make it up, make the trip to Colorado, where I was able to get the abortion,” Miller said.

She’s not alone. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, a wave of women seeking abortions has come to Colorado.

Cobalt, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to many of those women, spent $500,000 in the first quarter of this year helping people travel to Colorado. Officials said 85% of those who needed help traveling to Colorado were from Texas.

“Texas has one of the strictest bans abortion bans in the country,” said Newsum. “It’s not a surprise that it skyrocketed.”

Abortion rights advocates said there’s no guarantee Colorado will remain a safe haven for those seeking an abortion in the future.

“As we know, lawmakers can come and go,” said Newsum.

That’s why they’re pushing to enshrine abortion protections into the state constitution through a ballot measure this November.

“We need that extra layer of protection to make sure that abortion remains legal in Colorado for all Coloradans,” said Newsum.

When Miller returned to Texas after having her abortion, she worried she’d be in legal jeopardy.

“There's just this intentionally created culture of fear and of mistrust,” Miller said. “It was nearly a month later, and we still didn't say that we'd already gone to Colorado for an abortion because we were so scared. You just don't know who can turn against you.”

Last year, Colorado passed a bill designed to protect people who travel to the state to have abortions. The law instructs state agencies not to participate in or provide information to out-of-state investigations.

Miller said a similar law is needed at the federal level. That’s why she traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to testify in support of a bill in the U.S. Senate that would protect those who cross state lines to have an abortion.

“This bill gives people that freedom because right now, there really are questions of whether or not you are allowed to travel,” said Miller. “There are more and more who find themselves in my situation.”

Miller said none of the lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee who are opposed to abortion rights acknowledged her while she testified.

“They didn’t ask me a single question, had nothing for me, barely looked at me,” Miller said. “That’s because they would like to erase me.”

Some anti-abortion groups, such as the Thomas More Society, have suggested states should be able to prosecute groups who help women cross state lines for abortion.

“Just because you jump across a state line doesn’t mean your home state doesn’t have jurisdiction,” Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, told the Washington Post in 2022.“It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line.”

Alabama's attorney general also suggested his state would be able to do this, but in a ruling last month, a federal judge said the state did not have this authority.

"Alabama can no more restrict people from going to, say, California to engage in what is lawful there than California can restrict people from coming to Alabama to do what is lawful here," said Judge Myron Thompson.

Miller believes abortion access will motivate people to vote this year.

“Millions now are realizing that this rollback of rights is abhorred and it is frankly anti-American,” she said.

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