With the announcement Monday that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of a Mississippi abortion law on Dec. 1, the Court's list of people and organizations filing supportive briefs exploded from 80 to close to 150, including several from Colorado.
Most of the filings on Monday came from those opposed to the Mississippi law, which generally bans abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The list of signatories to amicus curiae briefs includes prominent Colorado officials on both sides of the issue, as well as individuals sharing their personal experiences with abortion. The Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Youth highlighted Jenn Chalifoux, a University of Colorado law student, who found out she was pregnant even while on birth control.
"If I had been forced to carry my pregnancy to term, I believe that I would have ended my life rather than give birth," she said. "Instead of doing either, I have gotten to graduate from college, recover fully from my eating disorder, and fall in love with someone with whom I intend to start a family."
Prior to Monday, Republican officials and other Coloradans opposed to abortion had registered their backing of Mississippi and its state health officer, Thomas E. Dobbs. Those who filed Monday collectively asking the Supreme Court to strike down the abortion regulation included the state of California and its attorney general, joined by the top prosecutors of 22 other states and the District of Columbia. That group also included Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
The Mississippi law, known as the Gestational Age Act, bans abortions after 15 weeks except for medical emergencies or severe fetal abnormalities. It does not include an exception for rape or incest. The Jackson Women's Health Clinic, the last abortion provider in the state, filed suit immediately to block the law after it was enacted in 2018.
A lower court in Mississippi ruled in favor of the clinic, with U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves writing in November 2018 that the state had "no legitimate state interest strong enough, prior to viability, to justify a ban on abortions."
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld that decision, saying the law violated the U.S. Supreme Court's precedents in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which guarantee the right to an abortion before the point of fetal viability without an undue burden from the government.
The state then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which said on May 17, 2021 it would hear the case. A fetus is not considered viable at 15 weeks, and upholding the Mississippi law would necessarily mark a huge shift in the legal framework for abortion access.
Weighing in on the side of Jackson Women's Health Organization were all of Colorado's Democratic members of Congress, 40 Democrats in the General Assembly, doctors, social science experts, medical and ethics faculty from the University of Colorado and groups that provide reproductive health services.
"Women who are denied an abortion are more likely to live below the poverty level and be unemployed years after being denied the abortion than women who receive their wanted abortion," explained a filing from social science experts, which included University of Colorado faculty members Kate Coleman-Minahan and Amanda Jean Stevenson.
Among the briefs with Colorado ties:
In support of Mississippi
Several Coloradans were among the 396 state legislators from 41 states supporting Mississippi, including Republican Reps. Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch; Matt Soper of Delta, Kim Ransom of Lone Tree, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.
Megan Paciaroni, a faculty member in electrical engineering for the Colorado School of Mines, is among the 240 women scholars and and "prolife feminist" groups arguing the constitutional right to abortion was not the cause of women's social and economic advancement.
U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert, Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn were among the 228 Republican members of Congress who claimed that Mississippi's law advances legitimate state interests like reducing maternal mortality.
A brief from a group of women legislators and the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion nonprofit that helps elect lawmakers opposed to abortion, includes supporters Reps. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, and Tonya Van Beber, R-Eaton.
The brief from the Foundation to Abolish Abortion includes Colorado Right to Life as one of its backers.
Colorado Republican Party Chair Kristi Burton Brown and Connie Weiskopf of the Boulder Pregnancy Resource Center, an anti-abortion clinic, urged the Supreme Court to extend the rights of children articulated in Levy v. Louisiana.
In support of Jackson Women's Health Organization
The brief from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers quotes several Colorado doctors, including some who are performing abortions on women coming from other states where the procedure is severely restricted, including Texas.
A brief from the Feminist Majority Foundation and other groups referenced attacks against abortion providers, including the 2015 murders at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Violence against abortion providers has been an effective tool in blocking abortion access, the groups argued.
Economists, social science experts, deans and faculty at schools of public health and a coalition of current and former district attorneys weighed in. The latter group includes Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty and his predecessor Stan Garnett, and former U.S. Attorney for Colorado under the Obama administration John Walsh.
The Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) and COLOR Action Fund are included in a brief submitted by Mississippi in Action and other supporters.
Among the 236 Democratic members of Congress registering their support are U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse, Jason Crow and Ed Perlmutter, plus U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper.
Forty Colorado Democratic state lawmakers — 14 from the Senate and 26 from the House of Representatives — were listed in a brief filed by 896 state lawmakers. "States that would protect legal abortion even in the absence of Roe would have to contend with the resulting surge of out-of-state patients, resulting in longer waiting periods and delays in accessing care for what is time-sensitive, essential healthcare," the lawmakers argued.
The case is Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, et al.