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Elisabeth Epps speaks during a press conference at the Capitol
Democratic state Rep. Elisabeth Epps, D-Denver, speaks during a news conference announcing bills related to abortion and gender-affirming care March 9 at the Colorado Capitol. (Elliott Wenzler, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Democrats on Thursday unveiled a trio of bills aimed at ensuring abortion and gender-affirming care in Colorado isn’t subject to legal action initiated in other states, as well as reshaping health insurance regulations around the procedures and prohibiting deceptive advertising by anti-abortion pregnancy centers. 

The measures, introduced Thursday in the Senate, come a year after the legislature passed a bill enshrining abortion access in state law. That happened just before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling protecting the right to an abortion without excessive government restriction.

Since Roe was overturned, conservative areas of the country have passed abortion restrictions, leading to an influx of people coming to Colorado to terminate their pregnancies. Colorado has almost no abortion restrictions. Republican state legislatures and governors have also begun enacting laws limiting transgender care for young people. 

Republicans are likely to fight the Colorado bills, but they are in the minority in the legislature and have few tools to stop the policy changes. 

Here’s what the legislation would do, according to bill fact sheets provided to The Colorado Sun and interviews with the measures’ sponsors:

The most substantive of the three measures takes aim at abortion restrictions passed in other states in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, as well as laws passed by other states limiting gender-affirming care for transgender people

Senate Bill 188 would mandate that Colorado not recognize criminal prosecutions initiated in other states for people who receive, provide or assist in access to an abortion or gender-affirming care in Colorado. That would explicitly outlaw abortion-related arrests, extraditions, search warrants and court summons or subpoenas. 

The bill would also bar state employees from participating or assisting in interstate investigations into abortion and gender-affirming care, and it would prohibit wiretapping related to an investigation of abortion or gender-affirming care. 

Additionally, abortion- and gender-affirming-care-related lawsuits wouldn’t be recognized or enforced by the state under the measure. 

State Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat and a lead sponsor of the bill, said the idea behind the legislation is to prevent investigations into things that are legal in Colorado.

“Gender-affirming and reproductive health care services are lawful here in Colorado, so why would Colorado law enforcement agencies, courts or our governor investigate activity that is legal in this state?” Gonzales said.

Other lead sponsors of the bill are Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, of Boulder County, Rep. Meg Froelich, of Englewood, and Rep. Brianna Titone, of Arvada.

“Our fundamental freedoms are constantly under attack through hurtful transphobic rhetoric, anti-gay bills and egregious attempts to limit who we are. In Colorado, we say no more,” Titone, Colorado’s first transgender lawmaker, said at a news conference at the Capitol.

Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order in July prohibiting the state from assisting in criminal or civil abortion actions initiated in other states. 

The measure would also require Colorado prisons to provide pregnant people with information on abortion access. Additionally, state medical boards would be prohibited under the measure from leveling professional consequences against people who provide or assist in abortions and gender-affirming care.

Prohibiting deceptive advertising

The second measure would prohibit “deceptive advertising,” namely around abortion pill reversal. The legislation is targeted toward anti-abortion pregnancy centers, but would apply to any organization purporting to offer pregnancy services.

Senate Bill 190 would also consider it deceptive advertising to falsely purport to offer abortion services or Plan B.

“These centers open up near college campuses and in communities of color in order to persuade people to make decisions without understanding their full range of medically accurate reproductive health care,” said Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat and one of the bill’s lead sponsors. 

The other prime sponsors are Reps. Karen McCormick, of Longmont, and Elisabeth Epps, of Denver, and Sen. Janice Marchman, of Loveland.

Additionally, prescribing, offering or facilitating abortion pill reversal would become “unprofessional conduct for licensed, registered or certified health care providers.” 

Some states require abortion providers to tell their patients that they can reverse the procedure. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says claims about abortion-reversal treatment “are not based in science” and that reversal procedures are unproven and unethical.

Health insurance policy changes

The third and final bill deals with health insurance policy. 

Advocates say Senate Bill 189 would reduce surprise billing and remove patient cost sharing for treatment of sexually transmitted infections, as well as sterilization and abortion care.

It would also: 

  • Create a state fund that providers may on behalf of patients receiving abortion or reproductive health services who are concerned about confidentiality
  • Ensure that the exemption from step therapy and prior authorization requirements for HIV medications applies to medications prescribed by any authorized provider, not only pharmacists
  • Include family planning related services in the existing state reproductive health care program
  • Clarify that Medicaid’s non-emergency medical transportation service can support patient transportation to abortions
  • Modernizes a statute from the 1970s to remove old references to young people needing to be referred by a member of the clergy or a state health worker to access contraception

Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, of Commerce City, Sen. Lisa Cutter, of Jefferson County, and Reps. Lorena Garcia, of Adams County, and Dafna Michaelson-Jenet, of Commerce City, will be the prime sponsors.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....

Elliott Wenzler wrote about politics, water, housing, and other topics for The Colorado Sun from October 2022 through September 2023. She has covered community issues in Colorado since 2019, including for Colorado Community Media. She has been...