As Gov. Polis signs abortion access into law, Colorado clinics brace for an influx of patients

Reproductive Health Equity Act
Posted at 5:43 PM, Apr 04, 2022

DENVER — With a speech and the stroke of a pen, Colorado Governor Jared Polis codified into state law access to abortions on Monday.

House Bill 1279, otherwise known as the Reproductive Health Equity Act, affirms access to reproductive health care rights like contraception and abortion, and it prohibits the punishment of someone who seeks one.

The move to pass the new law comes as many other states like Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho take steps to significantly limit the practice in their areas, while places like Kansas consider similar moves.

The Colorado bill signing also comes ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court decision expected later this summer that could effectively overturn Roe v. Wade.

Since Texas’ abortion law, SB8, went into effect on Sept. 1, Planned Parenthood reports it has seen 1,034 patients from the state travel to Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada for abortion care.

“This represents a significant and consistent increase compared to previous months/years,” said Neta Meltzer, the regional director of communications for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, in an email to Denver7.

Across Colorado, other clinics are reporting similar upticks in out-of-state patients coming in for care.

“We’re definitely seeing an influx of specifically Texas patients, but we've also seen Kansas, Oklahoma, Georgia, New Mexico, Wyoming,” said Margie Andersohn, the practice manager for Health Futures for Women.

Andersohn has even seen patients from as far away as New York coming to Colorado for treatment.

Some of the patients are driving from far away and sleeping in their cars as they wait to access abortion care in Colorado.

Andersohn is waiting to see what decision will come in June from the Supreme Court. But already, she says, the clinic is working to increase its staff and buy new equipment to help with the abortion procedures.

Like many businesses, though, there is a staffing shortage. Andersohn hasn’t been able to find a medical assistant despite searching for one for quite some time.

“We're still short staffed, and we're still trying to keep our commitment to our patients to see them within a week,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rebecca Cohen, a physician and the medical director of Comprehensive Women’s Health Care, says on some days as much as 20% of her patients are coming from Texas.

The clinic is already pushing itself to its limits for treatment, as are many others in the state because of the demand.

As hard as it is to see look into the crystal ball of what’s ahead for clinics with state restrictions and at the Supreme Court, Cohen says she’s bracing for a tsunami of additional patients.

However, being an abortion destination state comes with its own set of unique challenges, like delays in access for some who are living in state.

“We are safely delaying our earlier gestational age patients potentially even up to a week or two, recognizing that although it can be, you know, psychologically very difficult — and we absolutely prefer not to do that — these are extraordinary times,” Cohen said.

Patients who are further along in their pregnancies or who are traveling from out of state and facing significant costs for the travel, time off work and hotel stay, are being prioritized by some of these clinics.

The clinic is increasing its telemedicine services and looking into adding part-time providers, other networks and other options to expand their availability.

Back at the bill signing, supporters of abortion care say this day and this new law are an important step for the state but they’re already looking toward the future.

“I think it's the onus is on us. It's like, 'What do we do next? How can we think out of the box? What can we do, again, to support the people who are most impacted?' You know, people of color, low income people, young people,” said Dusti Gurule, the CEO of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR).

She would like to see the state take a closer look at the intersectionality of reproductive justice and how that affects access.

Others want the state to remove some of the cost and funding barriers to abortions.

For now, Gurule and supporters of HB22-1279 are celebrating the bill signing and bracing for the next stage.

"It's been a long haul, but I'm just over the moon and have cried multiple times in because I'm just so happy and proud of our state," she said.