Note: The following is the Colorado Catholic Conference’s testimony given in opposition to SB23-188 in House Judiciary Committee on March 28, 2023.
The Colorado Catholic Conference opposes SB 188, “Protection for Accessing Reproductive Health Care.”
We are thankful to sponsors of the bill for including a religious exemption in Senate Judiciary committee last week. That was a greatly needed and important amendment for Coloradans and faith-based organizations. However, as written the amended version of the bill still has some complications for first amendment rights for individuals who are not employed by faith-based organizations.
For instance, the amended bill currently does not protect for-profit companies—like Hobby Lobby or Hercules Industries of Denver– with a majority of religious stockholders or religious directors that wish to operate the business in accord with their religious values.
Sections 2 and 3 of the bill will continue to prohibit insurance carriers from refusing to pay a healthcare provider for providing “protected health-care activity,” including abortion and gender-affirming care. Such requirements are similar to provisions in the Affordable Care Act that were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby in 2014, which reinforced a private company’s exemption from regulation that violates an owner’s sincerely held beliefs.
The bill is also missing a broad statutory definition for “religious organization,” which means it could be narrowly construed by Colorado courts, and fail to protect the free exercise rights of many ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor, Common Spirit Health, or even Catholic Charities, which, in the case of Colorado, are not operationally under their diocese. We have seen these religious liberty cases go to the Supreme Court over and over again, apply strict scrutiny on the First Amendment, and ultimately the party defending their first amendment rights wins.
As currently written, Section 25 of this bill would prohibit a person or entity from terminating a healthcare contract with a healthcare provider that performs abortion and gender-affirming care. Arguably the new religious exemption clause should protect against this in the case of Catholic hospitals, but it is not clear.
If it doesn’t protect religious health care facilities, then it will be subject to federal provisions including “Coats-Snowe” amendment which states that a state government that receives federal funding “may not discriminate against any health care entity that objects to abortion,” and the Weldon amendment, which states that federal healthcare funds will not be available to a state that subjects any institutional or individual healthcare entity to discrimination on the basis that the healthcare entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.
This means that, if enacted, this bill could put Colorado’s federal healthcare funds at risk under Weldon.
We must also consider the huge benefit that faith-based health care provides Colorado. For instance, according to a 2022 Catholic University of America report on the Economic Impact of the Catholic Church on the state of Colorado, Catholic hospitals provide an annual economic benefit of $4.3 billion dollars to our state. – which illustrated is more than the cumulative impact of the University of Colorado system.
Additionally, the proponents of RHEA, argue that Coloradans want unrestricted abortion and that is Colorado’s right to enforce it. Why then do other states not also have the right to self-determination when their citizens elect pro-life lawmakers who want to promote a culture of life in their state? It is hypocritical.
On behalf of the Colorado bishops, we respectfully ask the committee to vote “NO” on SB 188.