Coat hangers long have been a specter of things past — a symbol of the pre-Roe v. Wade era. But recent moves to outlaw legal abortions are causing some pro-choice advocates to fear the return of the coat hanger and other unsafe methods of ending unwanted pregnancies.
In less than two weeks, on March 2, the now eight-member U.S. Supreme Court will hear its first abortion case in almost a decade, one that could end most legal abortions in Texas. Republicans in the Colorado House hope a bill based on the Texas law at issue could be passed here.
The Texas law requires abortion doctors to have privileges to admit their patients to local hospitals. Upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the measure has resulted in the closure of all but a handful of the 40 abortion clinics in the Lone Star State.
The result? According to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project — a five-year research project on Texas reproductive law — at least 100,000 women in Texas have attempted to end their pregnancies on their own since the Texas law took effect in 2013. Some obtain abortion-inducing drugs, often in Mexico. Others take more dangerous routes such as swallowing unproven herbs or massive dosages of Vitamin C, or even ending their pregnancies by being punched in the stomach.
In Colorado, House Republicans, who have so far batted 0-for-2 this session on anti-abortion bills, are drawing inspiration from the Texas law and say they’re not giving up on outlawing abortions — or at least making them as difficult to obtain as possible.
State Rep. Patrick Neville, a Castle Rock Republican, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 16-1203, known as the “Women’s Health Protection Act.” The bill includes one of the major provisions of the Texas law: requiring a doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles from the clinic where he or she performs abortions. Presumably, if an abortion goes wrong, the doctor can admit the patient for life-saving inpatient services.
But medical professionals pointed out in a brief filed with the Supreme Court that it’s unnecessary for an abortion doctor to have hospital privileges because complications from abortions are rare. Further, they argued that emergency room doctors and other physicians are more than capable of handling those complications than are most doctors who perform the procedure.
According to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which supports reproductive rights, Colorado has 42 providers performing abortions, including 24 clinics statewide. Most clinics are operated by Planned Parenthood and located along the Front Range, although three are on the Western Slope and another is in Alamosa.
Currently, there’s no requirement in Colorado that abortion doctors here must have hospital privileges. But, as proposed, Neville’s bill includes language that says Colorado should regulate abortion clinics in a manner “consistent with the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
It could take months — if not longer, given Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death Saturday — for the Supreme Court to rule on the Texas case. Neville’s proposed requirement that Colorado follow the decisions of the Supreme Court appears to anticipate a ruling that would uphold the Texas law.
The Neville bill also would shift the responsibility of licensing abortion clinics away from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to the Colorado Attorney General’s office. Under his proposal, a clinic would need to pass an annual inspection, conducted by the attorney general staff, to renew its license.
That’s “politicizing abortion care,” said Sarah Taylor-Nanista of Planned Parenthood Votes.
Abortion clinics are currently licensed no differently than any other health care provider, she noted. Taylor-Nanista added that other parts of Neville’s bill — including requiring the Attorney General to come up with rules on doctors, medical screening, the abortion procedure itself, recovery room standards and follow-up care for abortion patients — are far outside the purview of that office and should remain so.
Neville turned down an opportunity to talk with The Independent about his bill.
His measure has 15 cosponsors out of the House’s total of 27 Republicans. It does not yet list a sponsor in the State Senate. That’s unlikely to be necessary, given that any House bill attempting to whittle away abortion rights is expected to be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled House. Neville’s bill has been assigned to the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee, whose Democratic members last week promptly eliminated the first anti-abortion bill they heard this session.
That bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Stephen Humphrey of Severance, sought to put personhood into state law. Such a law would define life as beginning at conception. The bill said upfront that the General Assembly should make terminating the life of an unborn child illegal, and included language to make abortion a Class One felony, along the same lines as first-degree murder. The penalty — which could have included life in prison — would have applied to doctors performing abortions, not to the women seeking them. The Democrat-controlled committee killed the bill on a 7-6 party-line vote after a three-hour hearing.
That committee is made up of seven Democrats, all of whom are women, and six Republicans, four men and two women. It’s chaired by Rep. Beth McCann of Denver, a pro-choice Democrat running for Denver District Attorney..
The same day Humphrey’s personhood bill was quashed, the Democrat-controlled House Business Affairs & Labor Committee put to an end to another bill that would have allowed prosecutors to file homicide or assault charges when a fetus is killed in the commission of another crime, including traffic violations. That measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Janak Joshi of Colorado Springs, died on an 8-4 vote, with Republican Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction joining the committee’s seven Democrats in opposition.
In the coming weeks, Republicans will try to push forward a bill that would require abortion doctors to offer women ultrasounds prior to ending their pregnancies. House Bill 1218, sponsored by Firestone Republican Rep. Lori Saine, is known as the Women’s Reproductive Information Guarantee for Health Transparency (RIGHT) Act.
It would prohibit a woman from having an abortion until she has been given — both in writing and verbally — a “thorough and accurate description” of the abortion method, alternatives to abortion, long-term physical and psychological risks of the procedure, and possible medical assistance benefits. The information must be presented a minimum of 24 hours before the abortion.
Saine, who has carried anti-abortion proposals in the past, said her bill is just about providing women with more knowledge prior to an abortion. “Why not have more information?” she said.
Under her bill, a woman also would have the option — though not the requirement — of having an ultrasound performed to determine fetal age, along with a written and oral description of the pregnancy, including fetal age and whether the fetus has a heartbeat.
For women whose pregnancies are in the first trimester, when the vast majority of abortions are performed, the only type of ultrasound that could provide the information required by the bill is a transvaginal ultrasound, according to Planned Parenthood Votes’ Taylor-Nanista.
It’s a procedure that some claim may cause a miscarriage. It has been described as being so unpleasant that some women refer to it as “diagnostic rape.”
Taylor-Nanista told The Independent that Saine’s bill is less about transparency than about putting as many barriers as possible in front of women who seek an abortion, whether it’s the 24-hour waiting period or the ultrasound. Such bills “shame women out of abortion services” and attempt to scare them, she said. “These are decisions that should be between a woman and her doctor,” not politicians.
Saine’s bill also has been assigned to the House Health, Insurance and Environment committee where, like other abortion measures, it’s likely to die. Its main Senate sponsor is Republican Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton, who’s running to unseat Democrat Michael Bennet from the U.S. Senate.
Last year, TIm Neville sponsored a similar ultrasound bill, and brought with him a “mobile pregnancy counseling clinic” so that pregnant women could get ultrasounds right outside the state Capitol. That bill died in a Senate committee when one Republican joined with two Democrats to vote against it. His mobile clinic stunt was derided for what some called its raunchy theatrics.
Said then Minority Leader Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Denver: “I think it’s shocking and offensive.”
Photo credit, Colorado Senate GOP, Creative Commons, Flickr, https://flic.kr/p/9R1C1K