NEW YORK – A federal court in Colorado has sided with a Catholic healthcare clinic in its challenge to a recent state law that forbids doctors and nurses from administering a natural hormone to reverse the effects of the first step of a medically induced abortion, which the state had implemented in part because of safety concerns.
In a ruling late Oct. 21, U.S. District Judge Daniel Domenico ruled in part that regardless of the interests the state may have with the law, “Those interests cannot outweigh the plaintiffs’ interest in protecting their First Amendment rights.”
The case at hand is Bella Health and Wellness vs. Weiser, in which Bella Health and Wellness sued Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser over Senate Bill 23-190. In essence, the law prohibits offering or providing abortion reversal medication, and it took direct aim at pro-life medical centers in doing so.
Founded by Catholic mother and daughter and nurse practitioners Dede Chism and Abby Sinnett, Bella Health and Wellness offers pro-life medical care in Colorado. The specific part of the organization at the center of the lawsuit is its OB-GYN practice, which offers progesterone – a natural hormone – to reverse the effects of the first drug in a two-step abortion pill regimen.
Bella Health filed the lawsuit back in April, arguing SB 23-190 targeted religious healthcare clinics. The district court soon after granted the organization emergency relief, and the state then agreed that it will not enforce the law until the litigation was resolved.
After the Oct. 21 decision in their favor, Chism and Sinnett said they are “relieved and overjoyed.”
“Some of these women have had abortion pills forced on them, and others change their minds,” Chism and Sinnett said in an Oct. 21 statement. “We are relieved and overjoyed to continue helping the many women who come to our clinic seeking help.”
Colorado now has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
SB 23-190 was passed by the Colorado legislature and signed by Governor Jared Polis on April 14.
In its first section, the law takes direct aim at what it calls anti-abortion centers, calling them the “ground-level presence of a well-coordinated anti-choice movement.” It also describes abortion reversal medication as a “dangerous and deceptive practice that is not supported by science or clinical standards.” It states that administering such medication is unprofessional conduct subject to discipline.
Progesterone has long been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for other uses, but it hasn’t been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration for reversing a medication abortion. It’s also not approved by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which has stated that “claims regarding abortion ‘reversal’ treatment are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.”
However, Mark Rienzi, the president and CEO of Becket, a religious liberty law firm, told Crux in a statement there is evidence affirming progesterone’s safety. He cited studies presented in the case, as well as Bella Health’s experience. That said, scientific studies and evidence of its use specifically for the purpose of reversing a medical abortion appears limited.
“The government agrees progesterone is low risk, and that doctors have been using it to help women get and stay pregnant for decades,” Rienzi said. “As the evidence in the case makes clear, abortion pill reversal is supported by that history, by recent studies showing progesterone’s effectiveness at staving off miscarriages, and by human case studies, animal studies, basic biology and Bella’s own experience.”
As for the recent ruling, Rebekah Ricketts, counsel at Becket, said in a statement that the ruling “ensures that pregnant women across the state will receive the care they deserve and won’t be forced to have abortions against their will.”
In 2022, Polis signed Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act, which guarantees access to reproductive care and affirms the rights of pregnant women to continue or terminate a pregnancy, and which prohibits public entities in the state from restricting or denying those rights.
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