Donovan Pettersen Smallwood

State Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Jim Smallwood, R-Parker 

The state Senate on Monday advanced a bill that seeks to expand access to abortion for survivors of rape and incest, setting the stage for the measure to clear the chamber and move on to the House. 

Under current law, public funding can only be used to fund abortions if the procedure takes place in a licensed health care facility.

Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, on Monday noted the only such facility in the state is in the Denver metro area. 

The problem with this is that people in Colorado live across the state, they don't live right next to this one hospital,” she said. “It creates unnecessary barriers for people in one of the most difficult situations: our sexual assault survivors.” 

Senate Bill 21-142, sponsored by Pettersen and Vail Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan, would allow Medicaid recipients access to abortion by a licensed provider “in the same places, by the same people that every other person in Colorado has access to under insurance.” The proposal on Monday won approval on second reading before the full Senate after Democrats shot down a pair of amendments from Sen. Jim Smallwood.  

SmallwoodR-Douglas County, successfully pitched two amendments to the bill when it was before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last week. The first of those amendments added the provision that the abortion provider licensed by the state had to be acting within the purview of their license to perform an abortion, while the second added language clarifying abortion access must be safe. 

But the amendments brought forward on Monday by Smallwood mirrored a proposal shot down by the committee last week that sought to create definitions on where a publicly funded abortion can take place. Smallwood’s first amendment sought to limit locations where an abortion could be performed to facilities licensed under section 25-3-101 of state law, which include: 

  • General hospitals 

  • Hospital units 

  • Psychiatric hospitals 

  • Community clinics 

  • Rehabilitation hospitals 

  • Convalescent centers 

  • Community mental health centers 

  • Acute treatment units 

  • Facilities for persons with developmental disabilities  

  • Nursing care facilities 

  • Hospice care 

  • Assisted living residences 

  • Dialysis treatment clinics 

  • Ambulatory surgical centers 

  • Birthing centers 

  • Home care agencies 

His second amendment would have also added doctor’s offices to the list of approved locations.  

Smallwood said on the Senate floor that while he didn’t agree, he understood the bill sponsors’ position that limiting abortions for Medicaid patients to a licensed health care facility could be too restrictive. 

“But if that's the case, to take it all the way to the other extreme and say, abortions can be performed anywhere — they can be performed in parks, they can be performed in people's garages, they can be performed literally anywhere — I think that's taking things a little bit too far,” he said in explaining his amendments. 

Pettersen countered that an abortion provider would not risk losing their license and breaking the law by providing the procedure at a park. 

“Unfortunately, tactics like this have been used across the country to limit access to abortion care by trying to regulate facilities and calling them out specifically around this specific type of care,” she said. “There is no reason that we should be calling out facilities and that would actually, unfortunately, take us backwards with what we're trying to do in this bill. 

Donovan also said the hypotheticals Smallwood provided would result in a loss of license. 

“It’s the exact same regulatory framework that exists under right now where we expect medical providers to exist under the scope of their practice,” she said. “We don't need to address that bill, that's already the expectation of practicing healthcare in our state.” 

Smallwood said he was uncomfortable operating with an assumption that health care providers would act judiciously. 

“You don't need me to stand up here and start listing the Larry Nassar's of the world, who we've said, ‘Well, they're a professional so therefore let's give them latitude, we know that they're going to act judiciously I'm sure, otherwise their license is at risk,’ ” he said, referencing the convicted serial rapist and sex offender who formerly served as USA Gymnastics national team doctor. 

The Senate approved the bill on second reading by voice vote. It must pass the chamber on a third reading vote before heading to the House for consideration.   

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