DENVER — Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order July 6 further strengthening abortion access in the state.
The executive order, which you can read here, adds protections for individuals and organizations that provide abortions, as well as for individuals obtaining an abortion, including people who have traveled from states where the procedure has been or is likely to be criminalized.
“All state agencies and principal departments shall, to the full extent of their lawful authority, pursue opportunities and coordinate with each other to protect people and entities who are providing, assisting, seeking, or obtaining reproductive health care in Colorado,” the order states.
Polis’ executive order prohibits state agencies from sharing patient medical records with other states that are seeking to prosecute someone for obtaining an abortion.
The order also states that the governor “will exercise the full extent of [his] discretion to decline requests for the arrest, surrender, or extradition” of any person facing charges from another state for obtaining reproductive health care in Colorado, unless the person’s actions are also illegal in Colorado.
“We are taking needed action to protect and defend individual freedom and protect the privacy of Coloradans," the governor said in a statement. "This important step will ensure that Colorado’s thriving economy and workforce are not impacted based on personal health decisions that are wrongly being criminalized in other states."
Activists have been pushing for the governor to take this step. The morning of July 6, before Polis issued the executive order, the Denver branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which has organized and participated in recent protests in response to the reversal of Roe v. Wade, urged people to call the governor’s office and request Polis to:
- “Issue an executive order providing emergency funding to abortion clinics to ensure that no person is turned away from Colorado for lack of capacity”
- “Issue an executive order any state entity from cooperating in the investigation or prosecution — civil or criminal — of abortion recipients or providers”
- “Bar the sharing of medical records with law enforcement”
As Faith Miller reported for Colorado Newsline, the above demands were recently posted on a fence surrounding the governor’s mansion. The first demand is not currently possible because the state constitution prohibits using public funds for abortion procedures, though some advocacy groups and politicians are working on a 2024 ballot measure that would remove that provision.
Democrats praised the governor’s executive order.
“We applaud Governor Polis for taking action to protect abortion access in our state,” the Colorado Senate Democrats tweeted. “Many people in surrounding states will now need to travel to Colorado to access safe abortion care. We're grateful that both patients & providers will be protected."
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, said she is “joining Governor Polis in making it clear Colorado will not extradite anyone for a criminal violation of another state’s laws related to abortion services.”
Colorado is one of the few states in the West that guarantees abortion access in state law. Earlier this year, Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which codified protections for the full range of reproductive care, including abortions, and made it so that a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have personhood rights under Colorado law.
Zero states bordering Colorado have abortion rights guaranteed in state law. In fact, three of them — Utah, Wyoming and Oklahoma — are on their way to enacting total bans on the procedure.
Abortion providers in Colorado are used to treating many out-of-state patients, but the number of patients traveling from outside Colorado is likely to increase now that nearby states will criminalize abortion.
To find abortion clinics or an abortion fund near you, no matter what state you’re in, click here.
So far, no states have passed a law that would make traveling out of state to obtain an abortion illegal, and in his concurring opinion on the reversal of Roe, Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that people who travel out of their home state to obtain an abortion would be protected by the constitutional right to interstate travel. However, such a law is something that many people, including the President of the United States, fear is on the horizon.
During a July 1 call with a group of Democratic governors that included Polis, President Joe Biden said, “I think people are going to be shocked when the first state … tries to arrest a woman for crossing a state line to get health services, and they’re — I don’t think people believe that’s going to happen.”
The president continued: “But it’s going to happen and it’s going to … telegraph to the whole country that this is … a gigantic deal that goes beyond. I mean, it affects all your basic rights.”
Law professor David Cohen recently told the New York Times, “It’s hard to tell at this point, but I think it’s likely that [the prosecutors] will go after the people that help the woman get the abortion: The person who drives them, the doctor who sees them.” Polis’ executive order states that Colorado agencies will work to protect those people.
Polis’ executive order follows similar actions from the Democratic governors of California, Oregon and Washington, who recently signed a commitment to defend and strengthen abortion access. You can read their plan here.
Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at email@example.com.