Update: In a hearing that went 11 hours and concluded at 12:30 a.m. Friday morning, the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee voted along 6-5 party-lines to kill all three anti-abortion bills.
The first hearing, on a bill to require doctors to inform women about a scientifically-unproven abortion reversal procedure, featured an attempt by the bill sponsors to eliminate the original bill and offer a new version in the form of an amendment.
The amendment, which was rejected by the committee chair, said that doctors administering the first abortion pill should notify the woman that the first pill does not always result in an abortion. If “she should change her mind and regret her abortion, she does not have to take the second pill” and should seek care as soon as possible, according to the amendment, which was based in part on a fact sheet produced by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which was opposed to the abortion reversal bill.
The hearing, which drew close to 250 people in the committee room and in two overflow rooms, also included testimony from a familiar face in the abortion fight: former Rep. Joann Windholz of Commerce City. Windholz, a Republican, garnered nationwide attention after she blamed Planned Parenthood for instigating the violent shooting at the Colorado Springs clinic in November, 2015.
Lawmakers in the state House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee next week will hear testimony on three bills that would regulate or outlaw abortion in Colorado. None of the measures are expected to make it out of the Democratic-controlled committee, but that isn’t stopping some of the state’s Republican lawmakers from trying.
As Republicans begin to exercise power in D.C., led by President Trump, who campaigned as an anti-abortion candidate, at least 15 states, including Colorado, are looking at anti-abortion laws in 2017, with more than 50 measures proposed. Missouri leads the pack with 15 proposals.
Colorado’s anti-abortion legislation includes a controversial idea that’s getting its first public airing in this state: stopping an abortion halfway through the process.
The “Abortion Pill Reversal Information Act,” sponsored by Republican Reps. Justin Everett of Littleton and Dan Nordberg of Colorado Springs, would require a doctor to inform a woman seeking a medical abortion that the procedure can be “reversed” with a shot of progesterone. The doctor would be required to provide that information at least 24 hours before the woman begins the medical abortion.
Similar laws have been passed in Arizona, Arkansas and South Dakota in the past two years, although Arizona’s law was later struck down as unconstitutional. Colorado’s law is based on model legislation developed by Americans United for Life.
The bill applies only to medical, also known as non-surgical abortions, which now constitute about half of all abortions in some states and about 22 percent nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
It works like this: a woman seeking an abortion takes one of several drugs; Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, is the most common. The woman takes it under a doctor’s supervision. According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone. Without progesterone, the lining of the uterus breaks down, the cervix softens, and bleeding begins. Within 24 to 72 hours, the woman takes a second pill, Misoprostol, which she can take at home, to start contractions. Women are advised to see a doctor for follow-up care and to ensure the abortion is fully completed.
The NAF reports that about 95 to 98 percent of women who take the pills will have a safe abortion without complications. It’s recommended that women take the pills no later than the tenth week of pregnancy.
But the anti-abortion movement believes medical abortions can be halted if the woman doesn’t take the second pill. The idea originated with Dr. George Delgado, medical director of the San Diego-based Culture of Life Family Services, which bases its practice on the teachings of the Catholic Church.
To “reverse” the abortion, a woman is given progesterone injections, usually within 24 to 48 hours after taking the first pill. Delgado claims that 300 doctors are now in a network to provide abortion reversals. The Everett/Nordberg bill states that “it has been reported” that as of May 2016, least 175 babies were been following the reversal procedure, with another 100 on the way. Delgado is expected to be in Denver next week to testify on the bill.
But the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) likens the success rate of abortion reversals to that of flipping a coin. Mifepristone alone doesn’t always complete the abortion on its own, which is why the second pill is necessary. The ACOG said that doing nothing is as likely to be effective in halting an abortion as taking a shot of progesterone.
And there are a lot of questions about whether abortion reversal is safe. The NAF lists 10 studies in peer-reviewed medical journals on medical abortions and their safety. No similar list of studies exists on whether it is safe to stop a medical abortion once the first medication has been taken. So far, there has been just one study, in 2012, which reviewed anecdotal stories of six women who had attempted an abortion reversal. Four of the six had pregnancies that went to term after progesterone injections. However, the study was criticized for errors, a “tiny sample size, incomplete data,” and overreaching conclusions by its authors that their procedure could become a standard of care.
The authors were Delgado and ob/gyn Dr. Mary Davenport, who worked with Delgado at the Culture of Life clinic at the time of the study.
Despite that, Everett believes “we have science on our side,” although he admitted there hasn’t been a national study on the practice. “Legitimate doctors wouldn’t risk their licenses to do something that isn’t safe,” he said, adding that he’s been told the progesterone injection has been anywhere from 65 percent to 90 percent effective.
Everett told The Colorado Independent that five doctors will testify to the safety of abortion reversal, including two from Colorado. “I’m looking forward to letting medical professionals take the politics out of it…Women can make the decision and evaluate the risks.”
Ashley Wheeland of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains called the bill an attempt to scare women out of seeking safe and legal abortions. The bill would require doctors to tell the woman the abortion can be reversed, even if it flies in the face of the doctor’s medical opinion, she told The Independent. The bill doesn’t set up criminal penalties for ignoring the law, but it does allow a doctor to be disciplined under Colorado’s medical malpractice law or to be sued in civil court.
The abortion reversal is contrary to best medical practices and is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Wheeland said. The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology also cites the potential of damage to the woman’s nervous system, adverse reactions affecting the endocrine system and “significant” cardiovascular complications.
Wheeland believes the bill perpetuates the myth that women will decide to stop abortions once they’ve started them. Women are perfectly capable of making decisions about their own health, and doctors are perfectly capable of providing them with the information they need, Wheeland said. It’s one more attempt to insert politics into healthcare and a decision that should be left to a woman and her doctor, she added.
Even though the bill has a slim-to-none chance of passing the committee, Everett and his colleagues are determined to bring the issue forward. “We keep pushing the issues and fight for what we believe in, just like those on the left do,” Everett said. “You keep on plugging away, people will eventually do the right thing and we move on.”
Everett said it doesn’t apply only to partisan issues; he noted that the state’s waiting list for services for people with developmental disabilities is 15 years and he’s been working on that the entire time he’s been in the legislature. Some things just take a lot of time, he said. But “if you’re just down here to take it easy and give up easily, you will be ineffective and you won’t represent the people well.”
The second bill headed for the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee is one with a familiar name: The Women’s Health Protection Act.
Under the bill, sponsored by House Minority Leader Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, the attorney general’s office would take over regulation of abortion clinics. Clinics would be required to file an annual registration, which would include the number of abortions performed and in which trimester, specific reports on abortions performed after 20 weeks’ gestation, the name of each doctor performing abortions at the clinic, the number of women and “born-alive” infants who were transported to a hospital after a fully completed or partial abortion, and the number of babies born alive prior to, during or after an abortion.
The attorney general also would be required to inspect, without notice, every registered abortion clinic at least once a year, to determine whether the clinic is performing abortions at or after 20 weeks’ gestation and to examine the clinic’s equipment.
Wheeland pointed out that the attorney general is not a medical professional and has no expertise in evaluating medical clinics or equipment. As of 2014, there were 36 facilities providing abortions in Colorado, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That’s a decline of about 14 percent since 2011.
The proposal is similar to one defeated in the same committee last year. The 2016 version was based on a Texas abortion clinic law that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago.
The third bill, sponsored by Republican Reps. Steven Humphrey of Eaton and Kim Ransom of Lone Tree, goes after doctors who perform abortions, by making it a class one felony to perform an abortion. The only exception is to save the life of the woman. The measure also makes it a felony to prescribe or sell drugs to a pregnant woman that would cause an abortion, and anyone who “recklessly” causes the termination of a pregnancy, including by driving a car recklessly, also would be charged with unlawful termination of a pregnancy. The bill is a rehash of the so-called Personhood Amendment, which voters rejected in 2008, 2010 and 2013, all by wide margins.
Photo credit: RU-486 by abortion.com
Photo by Dr. George Delgado by Marianne Goodland