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Opinion: Sexual-assault survivors in rural Colorado need quality abortion services close to home

Pending state legislation is a step toward equity for survivors who deserve the same access, respect and dignity as any other patient.

One thing I’ve learned in all my years supporting and advocating for survivors of sexual violence is that we must center their needs in everything we do to support them. We must listen to them, and truly hear what they say. We must build back their power and autonomy.

But in Colorado, we treat low-income survivors of sexual violence who seek abortion care differently than patients who have private insurance or can pay out of pocket.

Brie Franklin

Per our state constitution, patients using Medicaid are only able to access covered abortion care if they are victims of sexual assault, incest, or their life is endangered. And because of a law from the 1990s, we require Medicaid-covered abortion care to be performed in a hospital by a physician, rather than by a licensed provider, as is the case for everyone else. 

There is only one provider in the entire state that meets this criteria, and it is located in the Denver metro area. That means if you live in parts of rural Colorado, you are a day’s drive — each way  — or an expensive plane ride away from accessing covered abortion care. 

This essentially penalizes survivors who live outside the Denver metro area and creates an arbitrary, medically unnecessary barrier to the care that is their human right. 

Survivors who live in rural areas should be given the same access and treatment as someone with private insurance or the means to pay out of pocket for care. They should be able to use their coverage to be treated in the comfort of their home community — or certainly, at least nearby — by the appropriate licensed provider.

The restrictions to abortion-care access for patients using Medicaid do not result in better care. They simply add complications and delays that can result in survivors needing to navigate travel logistics and funds, child care, lodging, and time away from work and missed pay, adding layers of barriers they must overcome — all this after experiencing sexual violence. 

This is not how we show survivors support, and it does not represent our most deeply-held Colorado values.

Colorado has become a safe haven for access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion care. As many of our neighboring and nearby states hollow out their responsibility to provide that care, here in Colorado we are taking steps to protect and expand access to it.

Patients in rural parts of our state already face long drive times, often over mountain passes, to get any health care at all. In the Colorado legislature, Senate Bill 142, Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest, is a step toward equity for survivors who deserve to access whatever care they need, whenever they need it, without arbitrary restrictions adding layers of complications. They deserve the same access, respect, and dignity as any other patient. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The measure is scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Health and Human Services committee.

Let’s change the law so licensed providers can treat patients close to home, no matter their income level or where they may live. Let’s get rid of this unnecessary restriction and send a message to survivors in our state: We are listening, and we are here for you, no matter what.


Brie Franklin is executive director of Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault and has been working in the movements to end sexual and domestic violence since 1998.


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