If Roe v. Wade really is overturned, what happens to abortion in Colorado?

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AP Photo/Alex Brandon
A crowd of people gather outside the Supreme Court, Monday night, May 2, 2022 in Washington. A draft opinion circulated among Supreme Court justices suggests that earlier this year a majority of them had thrown support behind overturning the 1973 case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a report published Monday night in Politico. It’s unclear if the draft represents the court’s final word on the matter.
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This story was originally published on May 2, 2022 and updated at 9:46 a.m. on May 3 to reflect that the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the authenticity of the leaked opinion.

A leaked draft opinion published by Politico seems to show that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn the federal right to an abortion. It’s an eventuality Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers were anticipating, when they enacted a law earlier this year aimed at protecting legal access to an abortion in the state.

Gov. Jared Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act into law on April 4. The measure passed strictly along partisan lines after hours of intense debate and unsuccessful Republican attempts to derail it.

A group of prominent female lawmakers announced the proposal in December 2021, in response to the Supreme Court heard arguments over a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. The justices’ questions indicated that they were ready to uphold the Mississippi law, and, in doing so, weaken Roe v. Wade. 

Monday’s leaked draft opinion — which Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed in a statement is authentic — appears to show that a majority of justices are ready to go even further, and reject the entire premise on which Roe v. Wade was decided.

What does Colorado’s abortion law actually do?

The law does three things:

  • Enshrines the legal right to abortion and contraceptive medicines in state law
  • Defines embryos, fertilized eggs and fetuses as lacking any standing under state law
  • Forbids public entities in Colorado from restricting access to contraceptives or an abortion

Prior to the Reproductive Health Equity Act, Colorado law said little about abortion. A minor is required to notify at least one parent if they get the procedure. And state health insurance can not pay for an abortion unless a patient's life is at risk. Other than that there are no waiting periods or restrictions. Colorado has long been one of few states that allow the procedure at any point in pregnancy. 

The law’s passage in April means the right to an abortion is officially encoded in state law and would require a repeal by the state legislature, though that would be unlikely as Colorado voters have repeatedly voted to uphold abortion rights.

And the issue is likely to come before voters again soon. Opponents of abortion are collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would ban the procedure at any point in pregnancy and under any circumstances. While on the other side, the same groups that pushed for the Reproductive Health Equity Act said they will also go to the ballot in 2024 to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution.

Colorado could see uptick of people seeking abortions from nearby states

If the nation’s high court does in fact overturn Roe v. Wade, Colorado would likely see more people crossing state lines to seek abortions. 

States around Colorado, including Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and Oklahoma, already have abortion restriction laws on the books. The overturning of Roe v. Wade would likely lead to full bans in those states.

That would likely push residents seeking abortions to travel Colorado, if they can afford it. Providers here have prepared for Texas residents traveling to clinics for care after that state enacted a strict, six-week abortion ban last fall.

In March, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott gave Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains a $20 million dollar gift, with the intention that it would help the organization serve the anticipated wave of out-of-state patients.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect gender-neutral language in references to the Colorado law and the Reproductive Health Equity Act.