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Clinic says promise not to enforce abortion law not enough

Posted at 12:53 PM, Apr 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-24 14:54:51-04

DENVER (AP) — The owner of a Catholic clinic challenging Colorado’s new ban on unproven treatments to reverse medication abortions testified Monday that a state pledge not to enforce the ban for now wasn’t enough to protect her staff and patients.

At a hearing in federal court, DeDe Chism, co-founder and CEO of Bella Health and Wellness, said state lawmakers’ comments during debate on the measure about wanting to come after faith-based clinics like hers made her fearful. She said she worried about what could happen if she continued to offer the treatments to women who wanted to stop a medication abortion.

“A promise is just a promise. I feel like I need something a little more concrete,” she said at the hearing, which was held to determine if U.S. District Judge Daniel Domenico’s judge’s temporary order stopping enforcement of the new law against her clinic should be extended.

The clinic claims the ban violates a First Amendment right to free speech and religious exercise.

After Domenico issued the temporary restraining order, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser revealed last week that the state’s medical and nursing boards had met behind closed doors recently and voted not to enforce the ban until a rulemaking process on the treatments is completed. That process won’t be concluded until September, he said. In the meantime, Bella Health will not face any enforcement of the ban and therefore does not have grounds to challenge the law, he said.

The ban was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis on April 14. It says health care workers who provide “medication abortion reversal treatments” would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and could be disciplined for providing them unless regulators pass rules saying that they are “generally accepted standard of practice.” It gave the medical, nursing and pharmacy boards until Oct. 1 to enact rules on it.

A representative of Weiser’s office, Chief Deputy Attorney General Natalie Hanlon Leh, also testified during the court hearing that the office would not prosecute any clinic simply for advertising abortion reversal treatments under the state’s anti-fraud law while the state boards consider how to label the treatments.

Bella Health gives doses of the hormone progesterone to women who have taken the abortion pill mifepristone, which inhibits progesterone, and decide not to continue the abortion process by taking a second drug, misoprostol.

Doctors use progesterone to try to prevent miscarriages. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says using it to try to reverse medication abortions is “unproven and unethical.”

About a dozen states have passed laws compelling abortion providers to tell their patients about the treatments. However, according to the Guttmacher Institute, Colorado is the only state that has banned them.