The following story is a reprint from the Sept. 11, 2013, Denver Catholic Register (“Awareness alert: knowing Colorado’s abortion laws may help change them”) to aid Catholics in understanding current laws related to abortion in the state in the wake of proposed, and recently defeated, abortion rights legislation, Senate Bill 175.
Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion at the federal level, states have responded with legislation regulating abortion in their jurisdictions.
When compared to other states, Colorado’s abortion laws are considered middle-of-the-road. Colorado was ranked 25th among the 50 states by the country’s oldest pro-life legal and policy organization, Americans United for Life—and received a “C+” average from NARAL Pro-Choice America for “choice-related laws.”
“We have some good things mixed in with the bad,” explained attorney Jenny Kraska, who heads up the Colorado Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Church in Colorado.
Among the bad: there is no gestational limit to abortion in Colorado—although the vast majority of states, 41, prohibit abortions except when necessary to protect the woman’s life or health after a certain point in pregnancy, most often fetal viability.
“We don’t live in 1973 anymore,” Kraska said. “Babies can be viable at 20 weeks.”
Normal pregnancy gestation is 40 weeks. Late-term abortions are generally defined as after 24 weeks or the third trimester. Colorado is home to one of only four providers in the country who perform late-term abortions, Warren Hern, M.D.
“Patients are seen at any time during pregnancy,” according to the clinic’s website.
In contrast, there are two significant protections when it comes to abortion laws in Colorado in the form of constitutional amendments: one that prevents state tax dollars from being used for abortions except to preserve a woman’s life, and another that requires minors under the age of 18 to provide written notice to parents at least 48 hours prior to an abortion.
While Colorado prohibits state funding of abortions, the amendment regularly gets called into question because of a lack of transparency.
“Money goes to Planned Parenthood… who claims it’s used for everything but abortion,” Kraska said. “But you can’t really know that.”
Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortion in the United States, performing 333,964 abortions in 2011 according to its annual report. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains at 7155 E. 38th Ave. in Denver is the organization’s second largest facility.
To relay the seriousness of Colorado’s parental consent laws, Lynn Grandon, program director of Respect Life Resources of Catholic Charities, and director of Lighthouse Women’s Center, described a scenario. It’s one she’s seen firsthand in her experience counseling women and girls in crisis pregnancies.
“A mother gets a call from a hospital that her signature’s needed for emergency surgery for her daughter,” she relayed. “’What are you talking about? My child’s at school,’ the mother responds.”
The caller then states matter-of-factly: “Your daughter was at an abortion clinic and has to have reparative surgery” following a botched abortion. This is just one consequence of abuse of the law, Grandon said.
“We have to make sure the laws that are in place are being followed, upheld and enforced,” Kraska said.
The trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia last spring raised awareness about enforcement in the abortion industry. Gosnell was charged with eight counts of murder alleging he killed seven babies born alive by severing their spinal cords, as well as killed a patient from a lethal dose of painkillers.
Following weeks gruesome testimony, he was convicted in May on three counts of first degree murder for killing the babies, and one count of involuntary manslaughter for the woman’s death.
“Nine states introduced legislation as a direct result of seeing the Gosnell trial and wanting to make sure that didn’t happen in their state,” Kraska said.
Many of the Gosnell atrocities were attributed to a lack of enforcement. According to Mark Salley, communications director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, no state agency regulates abortion clinics in Colorado.
“However abortions may occur in other licensed facility types such as hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers that are regulated (or) inspected by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment,” he wrote in an email response.
Colorado is one of 39 states that require an abortion be performed by a licensed physician.
“The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies that licenses physicians would investigate any complaints against persons who provide abortions,” Salley wrote, “if they are a licensed professional.”
Regulation is a huge issue, Kraska said: “Restaurants, hair salons and nail salons are better regulated.
“Women insist on the best healthcare; they push for better healthcare,” she continued, “yet have no problem having an invasive medical procedure (at an unregulated facility).”
Changing the dialogue can help educate a broader population and encourage people “to think for themselves.”
“It’s not only about being pro-life, it’s about being pro-women,” Kraska said. “We should look out for the health and safety of all women, it’s common sense health-care we would demand in any medical procedure.”
She encouraged people to read and understand abortion laws, and remain vigilant in pro-life efforts.
“We didn’t get here overnight,” she said, “and we can’t change it overnight.”
For more information, contact the Colorado Catholic Conference at 303-894-8808, visit Respect Life Resources at www.ccdenver.org/respectlife or contact your parish Respect Life committee.
Summary of Colorado’s abortion laws
– No gestational limit on abortions.
– Minors under the age of 18 must provide written notice to parents at least 48 hours prior to abortions.
– Public funding for abortion is limited to life, endangerment, rape and incest.
– No state mandated counseling or fetal ultrasound required prior to abortion.
– No waiting period required prior to abortion.
– Abortions must be performed by a licensed physician.