Weathering the Storm: Judicial and Legislative Attacks on Abortion Rights and Access

In case you missed it, the Colorado Women’s Bar Association hosted its annual Public Policy Fundraiser on November 16, 2021, with a panel discussion highlighting recent judicial and legislative attacks on abortion rights and access, followed by a bit of levity and hilarity in the form of drag queen bingo. Read on for an account of our informative evening.



“Not since The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v. Wade has the constitutionally protected right and ability to obtain an abortion faced so serious a threat as it does today,” Dani Newsum stated before introducing the two passionate panelists: CWBA Board Member Kiki Council of The Forefront Project and Kylee Sunderlin, Senior Legal Support Counsel for If/When/How. Moderator Dani Newsum is the Executive Director of Cobalt and a former civil rights attorney.


There are two federal cases that prohibit or severely limit abortion access that are currently pending before the Supreme Court, which abortion activists—pro and con alike—are watching with bated breath. In Colorado, abortion was decriminalized by Governor Love in 1967, and therefore the legality of abortion in the State of Colorado is not as strongly tied to Roe v. Wade and potential federal decisions coming down as in some other states. The real concern, however, is the ongoing and persistent cumulation of laws and actions being taken across the nation to create barriers to still-legal abortions.


Panelist Kiki Council works for The Forefront Project as a staff attorney. The Forefront Project offers pro bono legal assistance to other reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations. In her spare time, Kiki works pro bono with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) to assist minors seeking abortion care to bypass Colorado’s parental notification requirement in judicial bypass proceedings. For juveniles, parental notification and consent laws are one of the greatest barriers to having a legal abortion. Six years after Roe v. Wade, the Belotti v. Baird case held that states cannot prevent minors from having abortions before viability. In dicta, however, the court noted states might require parental notification and/or consent, and this requirement might be “bypassed” with proof that the minor is either mature enough to have abortion, or that the abortion is in the minor’s best interest. Since a ballot measure in 1998, Colorado has required written parental notification 48 hours before a minor’s abortion (though the law does not require parental consent) under C.R.S. § 13-22-704. Like many states, Colorado’s bypass procedure under C.R.S. § 13-22-707follows the Belotti dicta, and requires that the minor be mature enough to make the decision to have an abortion and/or that having the procedure is in the minor’s best interest.

Here in Colorado, a many minors attempt to set their abortion appointment with PPRM, but are then informed of the notification requirement by the clinic. If, after being informed of the legal requirement of notification, the minor wishes to proceed with the bypass procedure, Kiki is notified. She contacts the minor and after signing a short engagement letter, conducts a short intake interview to outline the minor’s maturity and explain why it’s in the minor’s best interest to have an abortion. Kiki then files the petition, which requires a hearing to take place within four days. Kiki will be assisting If/When/How with a nationwide CLE and training regarding representing minors in judicial bypass procedures. If you are interested in participating, her contact information is included below.


Panelist Kylee Sunderlin spoke about self-managed abortion (SMA), which are abortions performed without medical assistance, and include over-the-counter medication (such as Plan B) as well as any other efforts to terminate a pregnancy outside of a medical setting. There is a large demand for SMA access, but the process has been criminalized in many states including Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Nevada under the guise of limiting abortions. Prosecutors use a range of legal tactics, including abortion laws (such as gestational age limit laws), prescription medication laws, and fetal personhood or victim laws along with other legal restrictions creatively and deliberately manipulated to generate barriers to abortion access.


For example, in a recent case Ohio v. Kalina Gillum, the defendant had a later term miscarriage and was indicted on charges of endangering children, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse, in addition to a first-degree felony count of involuntary manslaughter. A jury found Gillum guilty of all three remaining lessor charges, with the involuntary manslaughter charge being dismissed by the judge.


But the question is, why do these prosecutions matter? And why are they important to a state like Colorado, where the right to abortion access is governed by state law, not federal? Simply put, even if Roe v. Wade is upheld, many prosecutors continue to pursue restrictions on abortion access however and wherever they can. All of these cases steadily chip away at the fundamental rights of individuals to have reasonable access to safe and legal abortion procedures. And it is more than just the laws, it is the access to resources required to have reproductive autonomy. According to Kylee, the goal can’t be changing the law alone, but rather, it needs to be getting involved in the bigger community to sustain life.


Moderator Dani also emphasized that we need to think beyond abortion laws and build meaningful and real access to care. The panelists concurred, we should be using our resources to reduce harm. Colorado Representative Meg Froelich and Senator Julie Gonzalez are introducing the Reproductive Health Equity Act to ensure that abortion will be codified as a fundamental right. Additionally, COBALT protects individuals and their personal health decisions, with a mission focused on reproductive rights and advocating for everyone’s freedom to decide when and how to use birth control, give birth, or become a parent.



All three of these women are putting out the call to action. Attorneys are needed to assist those in need, especially those in communities that are hardest hit with barriers preventing abortion or limiting access to other reproductive decisions. Please reach out to Kiki Council on Instagram @kikifacexx, or at kiki@forefrontproject.org. You can contact Dani Newsum at dani@cobaltadvocates.org and https://cobaltadvocates.org/, and Kylee Sunderlin can be found at If/When/How (www.ifwhenhow.org). Please reach out to these panelists directly if you are able to support by providing pro bono hours, resources, or donating to their organizations.


After the emotion of such heart wrenching stories, Miss Jessica took over the helm and took us on a journey of Drag Queen Bingo filled with laughs and great trivia. CWBA member Kristen Blodgett killed it on the trivia. There was a unanimous desire to have a virtual makeup party to be led by Miss Jessica. And CWBA member Kelly Fetter was the first Bingo winner of the night. Lots of fun, laughter, crazy questions, and very loud BINGOs filled the remainder of the evening. To reach out to Miss Jessica, please visit https://jessicalwhor.com/.


A big thank you to the Public Policy Committee for creating such a wonderful fundraiser for all to participate. If you would like more information on this topic, the speakers, or donating to the Public Policy Committee, please contact Alison Connaughty and Laura Wolf with the CWBA at alisonconnaughty@gmail.com and laura@spark-law.com.

 

Kennetha Julien is a licensed Florida attorney having practiced family and criminal law for over 20 years. A graduate of University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, and Capital Law School in Columbus, Ohio. Here in Colorado, she uses her skills in administrative leadership having held Director positions at DORA and SCAO. Currently she is the Court Administrator for Englewood Municipal Court. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two boys enjoying baseball, skiing, and photography.

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