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Federal judge halts Colorado ban on 'abortion pill reversal'

Gov. Jared Polis, seated, surrounded by lawmakers and advocates, signed three reproductive healthcare bills
Lucas Brady Woods
Gov. Jared Polis, seated, surrounded by lawmakers and advocates, signed three reproductive healthcare bills that expand and protect access to abortions and gender-affirming care in Colorado on Friday, April 14, 2023.

A judge has temporarily halted enforcement of a Colorado ban on what experts consider unproven treatments to reverse medical abortions at a religious clinic that alleged in a lawsuit that the newly signed law violated its Constitutional rights.

Judge Daniel Domenico, who noted that Colorado is the only state to ban the treatment, issued the temporary restraining order over the weekend after Bella Health and Wellness argued that barring them from prescribing the so-called “abortion pill reversal” treatment violates their First Amendment right to free speech and religious exercise.

The idea of reversing a medical abortion has become a flashpoint in the clash over reproductive rights nationwide after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion up to the states. Roughly a dozen states have passed laws in the preceding years compelling abortion providers to inform their patients about the “reversal" treatment.

A Republican proposal to do that in Colorado this year floundered in the Democrat-controlled statehouse. That is partly because the treatment has found broad condemnation from the medical community, with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists saying it's “not based on science and (does) not meet clinical standards."

The new ban extends, at least to October, the deadline for Colorado's medical boards to determine whether the treatment is “generally accepted standard of practice" and therefore allowed.

The ban was part of a three-bill package enshrining abortion and transgender care rights in the state.

The specific bill that included the ban also targeted what it called deceptive practices by anti-abortion centers, which are known to market themselves as abortion clinics but don’t actually offer the procedure. Instead, they attempt to convince patients to not terminate their pregnancies.

The temporary restraining order, first reported by The Colorado Sun, applies to the entire bill.

In Colorado, Bella Health and Wellness argued that prohibiting them from prescribing the treatment would “violate their sincerely held religious beliefs" and that they had a patient whose current treatment would be interrupted if the new law was enforced.

One of the organization's attorneys, Laura Wolk Slavis from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, wrote in a statement: “Colorado’s new law is the opposite of choice — it targets women who have changed their minds and forces them to undergo abortions they want to stop. This law tramples the constitutional rights of these women and their doctors."

Domenico, a district judge nominated by former President Donald Trump, wrote in his ruling: “I find that the plaintiffs are sufficiently likely to succeed on the merits of one or more of their claims that short-term relief is warranted until the defendants can be heard in opposition.”

Domenico added that the restraining order is only in regards to Bella Health and Wellness. The organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A medical abortion is administered by taking two medications — mifepristone and then misoprostol — over the course of a few days. Bella Health and Wellness provides patients with a drug called progesterone which they claim walks back the the effects of mifepristone.

The lawsuit arrives as the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone.

A spokesperson for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and another for Colorado's Senate Democrats both declined to comment citing the pending litigation.

For the Colorado case, a hearing for a preliminary injunction — effectively an extension of the 14-day temporary restraining order — is scheduled for April 24.


Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.