A federal judge Friday lifted a temporary order shielding a Catholic anti-abortion clinic from being subject to a new Colorado law banning so-called abortion pill reversal treatment.
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Domenico said Colorado’s promise to not start enforcing Senate Bill 190 until the state’s three medical boards weigh in on whether abortion pill reversal is a “generally accepted standard of practice” was reason enough to lift the prohibition.
The boards say they won’t have a decision until at least September, meaning abortion pill reversal treatment won’t be hindered in Colorado for at least three more months. Senate Bill 190 was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis earlier this month.
Domenico also declined a request by Bella Health and Wellness, the Englewood-based anti-abortion clinic with locations in Denver and Lafayette, to expand the prohibition to the rest of the state pending the resolution of its lawsuit challenging the law on First Amendment grounds.
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“This decision is
based on the defendants’ having made it clear to the Court that the
plaintiffs’ current and planned activities do not subject them to the
threat of enforcement in the imminent future,” Domenico wrote. “Should that change, the plaintiffs can bring a new motion.”
Senate Bill 190 immediately outlawed abortion pill reversal by defining it as “unprofessional conduct” until at least Oct. 1. The state’s medical board, pharmacy board and nursing board have until then to decide, in consultation with each other, whether abortion reversal meets the threshold of being a “generally accepted standard of practice.” If they decide it does not, then the ban remains in place.
But the Colorado Medical Board and Colorado Board of Nursing held emergency meetings in light of the lawsuit filed by Bella Health and Wellness challenging the new law. The two boards voted unanimously not to enforce Senate Bill 190 until they decide whether abortion pill reversal is a “generally accepted standard of practice,” a determination they’re unlikely to make before September, according to court filings.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the district attorneys overseeing criminal prosecutions in Denver, Boulder, Arapahoe, Douglas, Lincoln and Elbert counties said that they, too, would not enforce a provision that appears to make it a deceptive trade practice to advertise or offer abortion pill reversal until the state’s medical boards determine whether it is a “generally accepted standard of practice.”
The prosecutors also raised doubts about whether Senate Bill 190 even makes it a deceptive trade practice to advertise or offer abortion pill reversal, as Bella Health and Wellness’ lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of the law claims, because that provision is only in the bill’s legislative declaration, which is used by lawmakers to explain their measures, not in the legal language of the measure.
Abortion pill reversal treatment is highly controversial and contested.
Progesterone is used to try to reverse abortions through another drug, called mifepristone, which is taken as a pill and induces abortion in early pregnancy.
Some states require abortion providers to tell their patients that they can reverse an abortion, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says claims about abortion-reversal treatments “are not based in science” and that reversal procedures are unproven and unethical. Anti-abortion groups say the practice is safe.
Colorado is the first state in the nation to try to ban abortion pill reversal.
Domenico ordered Colorado officials to provide an update within two days should the state’s medical boards issue a ruling on whether abortion pill reversal is a “generally accepted standard of practice.”
But, for the time being, Domenico said there is no reason for him to block enforcement of the law proactively.
“I find that the harm that may result from the defendants’ failure to keep their promises is too speculative at this time to grant preliminary injunctive relief,” he wrote.
Lawyers for Bella Health and Wellness celebrated the outcome Friday.
“Colorado’s attorney general ran away from this law once he realized the legislature had shot from the hip,” said Rebekah Ricketts, an attorney at Becket, a religious liberty law firm representing Bella Health and Wellness. “Now that the state has promised under oath to act as if the law does not exist, women in Colorado will not be forced to undergo abortions they seek to reverse.”
The broader lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 190 will continue to be litigated. It could be months, or even years, before it’s resolved.
Senate Bill 190 was one of three abortion-related bills Polis signed into law earlier this month.