Colorado Abortion Laws

Few topics can create as heated a debate as a discussion on abortion. People on both sides, whether pro-choice or pro-life, often feel adamant that state and federal reproductive laws should follow their moral or religious views. Abortion is legal in Colorado, as required since Roe v. Wade. Colorado changed its abortion laws drastically in 2013 after a high-profile case of a pregnant woman who was hit in a crosswalk in Denver in December 2010 and lost her nearly full-term fetus.

The following chart briefly explains the abortion laws in Colorado. The state abortion law terminology used below is described in Details on State Abortion Laws article.

Code Sections Colorado Revised Statutes Title 18: Criminal Code, Article 3.5: Offenses Against Pregnant Women and Title 12: Professionals & Occupations, Article 37.5: Parental Notification Act
Statutory Definition of Illegal Abortion Since July 1, 2013, Colorado has shifted from using the term “abortion” to “unlawful termination of pregnancy.” Unlawful termination of pregnancy is terminating a pregnancy by any means other than birth or a medical procedure, instrument, agent, or drug, which the pregnant woman (or her authorized health care agent) consented to and obtained.

Abortion is defined in the Parental Notification Act as the “use of any means to terminate the pregnancy of a minor with knowledge that the termination by those means will, with reasonable likelihood, cause the death of the minor's unborn offspring.” This was written over 10 years before the more recent “unlawful termination of pregnancy” definition.
Statutory Definition of Legal Abortion Using the unlawful termination of pregnancy definition, we can deduce that a medical procedure, instrument, agent, or drug that a pregnant woman consents to use and uses to cause an abortion is legal in Colorado.

In addition, Colorado law explicitly states that the Offenses Against Pregnant Women article is not intended to confer “personhood” upon a human embryo, fetus, or unborn child at any stage before birth. Therefore, no murder laws are implicated in abortion, despite the vehemence with which some anti-abortion activists feel that abortion is murder.
Penalty for Unlawful Abortion Unlawful termination of pregnancy penalties vary by degree.

  • First Degree – Terminating the fetus intentionally, typically a class 3 felony, if the woman dies also, it’s a class 2 felony.
    • A Class 2 felony is presumptively punished by 8-24 years in prison, a $5,000 to $1,000,000 fine, and 5 years mandatory parole. A Class 3 is punished by 4-12 years in prison, a $3,000 to $750,000 fine, and 5 years of mandatory parole.
  • Second Degree – Knowingly causing the unlawful fetus termination is a Class 4 felony. However, if caused by a “sudden heat of passion” that provoked the person and there wasn’t time to cool down, akin to a voluntary manslaughter situation. In that case, it’s lower to a Class 5 felony.
    • The Class 4 felony sentencing range guideline is 2-6 years in prison, a $2,000 to $500,000 fine, and a mandatory 3 years parole. A Class 5 felony sentencing range is 1-3 years, a $1,000 to $100,000 fine, and 2 years mandatory parole.
  • Third Degree – When the termination is caused by extreme indifference to the value of a human life and creating a grave risk of death to another, it’s a Class 5 felony.
  • Fourth Degree – Recklessly causing the unlawful termination of a pregnancy. A Class 6 felony usually, if the death happens while attempting, committing, or fleeing a murder, robbery, arson, burglary, escape from legal custody, kidnapping, or some assaults and sexual assaults then it’s a Class 5 felony, this is similar to felony murder.
    • A Class 6 felony is punished by 1 to 1.5 years in prison, a $1,000 to $100,000 fine, and 1 year mandatory parole.

There are also laws against vehicular unlawful termination of pregnancy, whether from careless driving or drunk driving.

Consent Requirements There is no spousal consent requirement, so a woman can get an abortion without telling her spouse. However, girls under 18 must get the permission of at least one parent, guardian, or other adult relative she lives with before getting an abortion. There is a judicial bypass if parental notification isn’t an option.
Residency Requirements There are no residency requirements to obtain an abortion in Colorado.
Waiting Periods There is no mandatory waiting period for an abortion in Colorado.
Late Term Abortion There’s also no gestational limit in Colorado. Although outpatient abortion is only available up to 26 weeks, with Planned Parenthood only offering up to almost 19 weeks. Medically required pregnancy termination is available for late term pregnancies.
Physician Licensing Requirements Only licensed physicians can perform abortions using accepted medical procedures in a facility licensed by the Department of Public Health and Environment.

Note: State laws change constantly, verify the laws you’re researching by conducting your own legal research or contacting an experienced Colorado health care or reproductive rights attorney.

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