DENVER — A group of Colorado Democrats unveiled a package of bills Thursday to further protect abortion access in the state.
The bills come less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned 50 years of abortion precedent with Roe v. Wade.
In the months before that decision was handed down, Colorado lawmakers passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which codified abortion rights into state law.
So far this legislative session, a handful of Republicans have introduced anti-abortion bills, which all failed in committees. Democrats, on the other hand, want to further enshrine abortion and gender-affirming care into state law.
During a press conference Thursday, three bills were unveiled. All three will start in the Colorado Senate.
Insurance coverage requirements
The first bill adds women’s preventative health care services guidelines to mandatory care coverage for health benefit plans. It also requires large employer plans to provide coverage for the total cost of abortion care without policy deductibles, co-payments or coinsurance starting in January 2025. The legislation adds an exemption for employers with sincerely held religious beliefs.
Senate Bill 23-189 also specifies that insurers must cover the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV medications, and prohibits insurance carriers from requiring step therapy before covering those HIV medications.
Step therapy is when insurance companies require patients to try lower levels of treatment first to see whether they work before offering the medication that could resolve the health issue. The practice helps insurance companies control their costs.
Beyond that, the bill protects the rights of minors of all ages to access contraceptive procedures without the notification of their parent or legal guardian, and it creates a state cash fund that providers may bill for patients who want to confidentially access reproductive health and gender-affirming care without having that information.
Finally, it expands reproductive health care into family planning services.
“This package and this bill seeks to address those structural barriers to care by reducing cost sharing for Coloradans providing transportation services for abortion care, addressing both financial and access inequities,” said Mannat Singh, the executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
A second bill aims to protect patients and providers who come to Colorado seeking abortions or gender-affirming care from being prosecuted.
“We want to make sure that people that are coming to Colorado are going to be able to get the services that they need that are legally protected here,” said Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada.
Titone says in the months after the Dobbs decision, not only have Colorado clinics been overwhelmed with patients coming in from out of state for these services, but providers have also expressed increasing concerns about whether offering these services to people traveling here will open them up to criminal or civil liability.
She hopes this bill will result in patients feeling safe coming here and more providers moving here to offer their services.
“We're hoping that we can continue to increase the services that we provide here by making it safe not just for the patients, but for those providers as well,” Titone said.
Senate Bill 23-188 prohibits courts from issuing a subpoena in connection with legal proceedings in another state for Colorado-protected health care services.
It also prohibits police from arresting someone who seeks or provides this type of care, prohibits search warrants from being issued, bans judges from issuing a summons for a grand jury investigation in another state over these services and blocks the governor from turning someone over to another state for these services unless the person received the care in that state.
The 27-page bill also calls for correctional facilities to offer abortions to those who want one, and allows the attorney general to bring civil and criminal actions against those who violate the RHEA.
Finally, the bill offers licensing and insurance providers who offer abortions or gender-affirming care protection, shielding them from fines, sanctions and rate increases and allowing them to be added to the list of protected persons whose information can be withheld from the internet over safety concerns.
Deceptive advertising practices
The third bill in the package defines deceptive advertising practices for so-called anti-abortion centers.
These facilities are also known as crisis pregnancy centers and are often run by faith-based organizations. Bill co-sponsors say these centers use deceptive advertising to lure patients in, then try to steer them away from reproductive health procedures.
“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,” said Rep. Janice Marchman, D-Loveland.
These centers also purport to offer "abortion reversal pills" that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says are not supported by science.
Senate Bill 23-190 prohibits the use of deceptive advertising practices by these centers, prohibits the advertising of those "abortion reversal pills" and qualifies the prescription or offering of those pills as unprofessional conduct for a licensed, registered health care provider.
The bill was modeled after a piece of Connecticut legislation that recently passed. Supporters of the bill say these centers use names that are similar to actual abortion clinics and unfairly target marginalized communities.
“They advertise in languages other than English specifically to target immigrant communities that already have folks who already have a harder time accessing health care services and anti-abortion centers,” said Rep. Elisabeth Epps, D-Denver.
Supporters of the bill say these centers outnumber abortion clinics by more than two to one, and there are five counties in the state with no abortion clinics but multiple crisis pregnancy centers.
The bills will start in the Senate and are likely to lead to some of the longest and most lively debates this legislative session.