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She risked coming to Colorado for an abortion. Now she wants to protect others from Texas ‘bounty system’

March 16, 2023 Updated Thu., March 16, 2023 at 12:40 p.m.

Plaintiff Lauren Miller speaks on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol on March 7, 2023, in Austin, Texas. Five Texas women who were denied abortions despite serious complications have sued the state, asking a judge to clarify exceptions to the new laws.    (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
Plaintiff Lauren Miller speaks on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol on March 7, 2023, in Austin, Texas. Five Texas women who were denied abortions despite serious complications have sued the state, asking a judge to clarify exceptions to the new laws.   (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
Saja Hindi, The Denver Post

DENVER — When Lauren Miller found out she was pregnant at the end of July, she wrote a journal entry about how she hoped her pregnancy would be as uncomplicated as her last, especially because of the fall of Roe v. Wade.

“If it’s not, I want to be able to share what I’m going through,” the Dallas woman wrote. “I hate the ‘don’t tell anyone until the second trimester so you don’t have to tell about a miscarriage’ mentality.”

Miller, whose date of pregnancy is listed as June 24 — the same day as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision — later found out she was having twins. It came as a welcome surprise because she wanted to have three kids and already had a 20-month-old toddler.

But the pregnancy did not go smoothly as she’d hoped. In September, the Millers got the news that one of the twins had Trisomy 18, and not only was the baby not going to make it, but it was putting her and the other baby at higher risk each day. However, because of Texas laws criminalizing abortions, she couldn’t get one and instead had the procedure in Colorado. Due to Texas law, Miller worried she or others involved could be prosecuted or face a civil suit. That’s why she testified remotely at a Colorado Senate committee hearing Wednesday in support of SB23-188, a bill to protect the privacy of patients and providers of Colorado abortions and gender-affirming care.

The bill mandates that the state not cooperate with out-of-state criminal or civil investigations, including prohibiting the issuance of subpoenas or warrants and preventing police from arresting or participating in the arrest of anyone over any health care activity that’s protected in Colorado. It also protects health care providers from adverse actions against them or their licensures and prohibits medical malpractice insurers from taking action against providers over protected health care activity.

Lawmakers introduced this bill to shield clinicians, pharmacists and patients from laws like those in Texas and other states criminalizing abortions and gender-affirming care. Colorado joins states that have passed similar legislation, including New York, California and Washington.

In Texas, where Miller lives, the state enacted a six-week abortion ban in 2021 that allows people to sue abortion providers or who “aid and abet” an abortion. If a lawsuit is successful, a person could be fined at least $10,000. After Roe was reversed, a trigger law also went into effect that made it a crime to provide an abortion, punishable up to life in prison and a civil penalty of not less than $100,000, plus attorney fees. The attorney general has said he wants to go after “abortion tourism.” So, Miller had reason to worry.

“Our health care is haunted by a bounty system,” the Dallas woman told Colorado lawmakers Wednesday.

For weeks, problem after problem arose with Miller’s pregnancy last fall, but she said doctors remained vague in response to her questions and apologized for not being able to speak openly. Despite this, all the doctors and genetic counselors she spoke to agreed the baby wouldn’t make it. And Miller was getting sicker and sicker by the day.

“These laws are really designed to turn people against each other and to sow mistrust. And so for us, it was scary trying to get information,” she said.

At one point, a doctor just told the Millers, “I can’t help you anymore. You need to leave the state.” A genetic counselor let slip that when she was in New York, a doctor would perform a single fetal termination in cases like Miller’s before clamming up, saying she had divulged too much.

It’s reasons like these that Colorado’s proposed shield law received support from people across the country. Miller’s Colorado doctor also testified in support of the bill Wednesday.

Dr. Jonathan Hirshberg said Miller should have been able to get the standard 15-minute procedure at her doctor’s office in her home state. But in the absence of being able to do that, he said other states’ laws should not be able to create a climate of fear in Colorado.

Lawmakers also heard from numerous people opposed to the bill, including Catholics for Choice and the Colorado Catholic Conference. Many urged lawmakers to reject the bill, citing religious freedoms and potential violations of First Amendment rights. Others opposed the bill based on anti-abortion sentiments, saying life should be honored from the moment of fertilization. One woman led lawmakers in prayer. Others spoke against circumventing other states’ laws and said the proposed law would provide protection for providers who do harm.

“This bill, in my opinion, is very evil to the very core,” Margo Harriman, one of the speakers, told lawmakers. “Are we protecting women, babies or abortionists?”

But in a Democratic-controlled statehouse, the bill passed Wednesday evening in its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will now head to the full Senate. Two other bills in the abortion package introduced by lawmakers were also scheduled for committee hearings Wednesday. In addition to the proposed shield law, SB 23-189 — which passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and is headed to appropriations — would require insurance coverage for reproductive health care. And SB 23-190, which went before lawmakers Wednesday evening, aims to put a stop to disinformation and deceptive practices by crisis pregnancy centers.

Miller considers herself lucky. She found her doctor in Colorado because a friend was in residency with him. But still, she was terrified when she asked for her medical records to be transferred.

The Millers were able to afford to fly to Denver on short notice for 48 hours in October so Lauren Miller could get the procedure. Her mother traveled from Houston to the couple’s home in Dallas to watch her toddler. Despite her not reporting it, someone billed her insurance for it (making her nervous that someone would turn her in), but they covered a portion of the medical procedure. All told, she paid about $3,500 for the trip and hospital visits.

At the recommendation of a friend, Miller had a conversation with the Center for Reproductive Rights about her situation and the people she spoke to told her that they didn’t believe Miller nor her husband broke any laws but that the laws were purposely confusing.

“They gave me my voice back” and allowed her to tell her story, she said.

She has since joined a lawsuit suing the state of Texas for what the plaintiffs say are vague laws about medical emergency exceptions that stop clinicians from providing abortions for fear of legal action. Miller is also working to help others through her lawsuit and in supporting proposed laws like Colorado’s, which would protect patients and providers.


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