Judge exempts Catholic clinic from Colorados ban on abortion reversal

A federal judge over the weekend temporarily blocked a new Colorado law that bans abortion-reversal treatment from being enforced against a Catholic health care clinic that immediately sued over the new law.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Domenico issued a temporary restraining order Saturday that stops enforcement of the ban for 14 days against Englewood-based Bella Health and Wellness. SB23-190, signed into law Friday, prohibits medical providers from offering so-called abortion reversal medication — designating such care as unprofessional conduct that is subject to professional discipline.

The ban will be reversed if the Colorado medical board and the state boards of pharmacy and nursing issue new rules by Oct. 1 that find it acceptable for medical providers to engage in medication abortion reversal and it is a generally accepted standard of practice. However, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says abortion medication reversal is not supported by science.

Bella Health and Wellness sued over the law Friday, arguing that the prohibition violates its First Amendment rights and religious freedom.

The Catholic clinic offers progesterone to patients who want to keep their pregnancies after previously taking mifepristone to induce an abortion. When the law was signed Friday, the clinic already was treating one patient with progesterone and the patient needs to continue that treatment, the clinic argued in court filings.

“Absent immediate relief, this patient risks having her care interrupted, and plaintiffs will be in an impossible position: either deny care in accordance with this new law and violate their sincerely held religious beliefs or continue to provide life-affirming care to their patients at the risk of losing their licenses,” attorneys wrote in the clinic’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. “A temporary restraining order is desperately needed to maintain the status quo — namely that, just as in the rest of the country, and just as in Colorado until a few hours ago, women should be free to change their minds after taking mifepristone, and their doctors and nurses should be free to help them.”

Domenico, a Trump-appointed judge confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in 2019, agreed with the clinic that immediate action was needed and put the temporary restraining order in place Saturday. He denied the clinic’s request for an immediate preliminary injunction — a longer-term tool — instead scheduling an April 24 hearing to allow both sides to argue their positions.

Domenico wrote in an eight-page order that the short-term restraining order balances the clinic patients’ rights with the larger public good.

“…The State and the public certainly have an interest in preventing deceptive trade practices and provision of medical treatments that are outside generally accepted standards of practice, the stated purposes of Senate Bill 23-190,” he wrote. “But though the efficacy of progesterone treatment in maintaining a patient’s pregnancy after taking mifepristone appears debatable, this treatment does not appear to pose severe health risks to patients who receive it, as evidenced by the fact that the treatment currently remains legal in every state but Colorado. And the potential harm to the public interest will be limited by a short-term (order) that prevents enforcement of Senate Bill 23-190 only against a single medical clinic.”

In a written statement, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, one of the advocacy groups behind the bill, said the organization was proud of the work it did on the crisis pregnancy centers law.

“The bill’s intention is to ensure consumers have access to reliable, trustworthy, and scientific information at their disposal,” spokesperson Aurea Bolaños Perea said. “We anticipated potential legal challenges and are aware of the case and the 14-day TRO, and we would direct further legal questions to the AG’s office.”

The attorney general’s office and Gov. Jared Polis’ office declined to comment Monday on the active case, but governor’s office spokesperson Conor Cahill added: “The governor stands by a woman’s right to choose.”

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