DENVER – Colorado lawmakers are considering legislation that supporters say will crack down on what they describe as "deceptive practices" by anti-abortion pregnancy centers.
The bill was introduced in a press conference by Democratic state lawmakers last week.
Opponents of the bill, including the Colorado Catholic Conference, are now responding, saying the legislation would take away a woman's choice and would violate the U.S. Constitution.
A member of a local pregnancy resource center's board also called accusations that the centers engage in deceptive practices "laughable" and "nonsensical."
Anti-abortion pregnancy centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, have been around for decades.
Many are affiliated with and receive funding from religious organizations and charities.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer put the public spotlight back on anti-abortion pregnancy centers, as the fight over abortion rights shifted back to the states.
In many states, including Colorado, anti-abortion pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics.
Senate Bill 190 would make it a deceptive trade practice for anti-abortion pregnancy centers in Colorado to advertise services they don’t offer, including abortion, emergency contraceptives or referrals for abortion or emergency contraceptives.
It would also ban the prescribing or administering of abortion reversal medications.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says abortion reversal medications are not supported by science.
“Our interest in this issue first came up because we work predominately on college campuses and college students were telling us that these centers are really a source of shame and stigma,” said Nicole Hensel, the executive director of New Era Colorado, which is pushing for the bill’s passage.
Hensel says anti-abortion pregnancy centers often open near college campuses and provide misinformation to deceive young people about the services they offer.
“They are often young people who are going into these clinics thinking that they can receive abortion care, abortion services. But instead, what's happening is they're being counseled out of those services,” said Hensel. “Or they're being brought in through some of the free services that these clinics provide, and then being handed literature on the dangers of abortion, or how it could affect their fertility in the future when we know that that's simply not true.”
State Senator Janice Marchman, D-Loveland, is one of the bill’s primary sponsors.
Marchman described anti-abortion pregnancy centers as “fake clinics” that lure in vulnerable people.
“Anti-abortion centers present themselves as legitimate family planning reproductive health care clinics, but these fake clinics use deceptive advertising to draw in vulnerable people seeking care to harass them with biased and inaccurate information about abortions and contraceptives,” said Marchman. “People who go to these clinics looking for help report being shamed and lied to – the exact opposite of the safe and accurate care we are beholden to protect as elected officials.”
Maureen West is an attorney who sits on the board of the Boulder Pregnancy Resource Center.
She says the center provides important information about alternatives to abortion like parenting and adoption.
Ultrasound exams are also offered.
“These women need choices, and they need to explore their choices, and that’s the essence of what a pregnancy center does,” said West. “These centers fill a need for women who want to explore all these options and have the opportunity and there's nothing sinister about it.”
The Boulder Pregnancy Resource Center’s website includes information about abortions and emergency contraception and directs readers to schedule a consultation to learn more.
However, in a disclaimer at the bottom of the website, the center says it does not offer or refer for pregnancy terminations or birth control.
West dismisses accusations of deceptive advertising and says clients who visit are not being coerced into doing anything against their will.
“From just a totally logical point of view, if this wasn’t such a serious issue, and it is a serious issue, that would almost be laughable,” said West. “There are all kinds of false allegations that fly around about a myriad of issues. This is just one of many. And sometimes, if you say it enough, and you say it loud enough, people start to believe it and it sticks.”
Instead of protecting a woman’s right to choose, West says SB 190 would do the opposite.
“Choice means more than one thing. Choice doesn’t just mean abortion,” said West. “This bill just takes that choice away from a woman.”
The Colorado Catholic Conference also staunchly opposes SB 190.
The conference said the bill eliminates “a woman’s choice to sustain her pregnancy and save her child’s life.”
SB 190 was introduced earlier this month as part of a package of bills Democratic lawmakers say will protect abortion access in Colorado.
The bill advanced out of the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday along a party-line vote, with the three Democratic lawmakers voting in favor of the bill and the two Republicans voting against it.
It will now be considered by the full Colorado Senate, where more debate is expected.
If the bill becomes law, the Colorado attorney general or district attorneys could take legal action against anti-abortion pregnancy centers for deceptive trade practices.