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Right to abortion in state constitution likely headed to voters next year

October 5, 2023, 10:54 am

Nearly 3,000 protesters gathered at the Colorado Capitol in downtown Denver on June 24, 2022, in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, which had guaranteed abortion rights. (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)

The right to abortion would be protected in the Colorado Constitution under a proposed amendment that could appear on next year’s ballot.

Additionally, that amendment would end the state’s ban on state funds being used for abortion care.

“Colorado has had a long tradition of facing anti-abortion ballot measures and time and time again, those have been rejected by voters. After many years of seeing those, it seems like the right time to affirm protection for abortion in the Constitution,” Karen Middleton, the president of the abortion-rights group Cobalt, told Colorado Newsline.

Legislative Council Staff, a nonpartisan research service of the Colorado Legislature, gave feedback to initiative backers Wednesday, paving the way for them to send two filed ballot proposals to the Title Board within the secretary of state’s office. Cobalt is joined in support for the ballot measure by fellow members of the Colorado Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Coalition, which also includes the ACLU of Colorado, Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, New Era Colorado and ProgressNow Colorado.

Democrats in the Colorado Legislature passed major protections for abortion access two years in a row. In 2022, a few months before Roe v. Wade was overturned, lawmakers passed a bill guaranteeing abortion access in state law. This year, they passed legislation to help shield providers and patients who travel to Colorado from states with abortion restrictions from criminal prosecution. Rights in the Constitution, however, are harder to repeal than those in state statute because doing so requires voter action.

“For all the gains we’ve made in the Legislature, there is still a fundamental question of fairness about a barrier to accessing abortion care, which limits who can access abortion through their insurance,” Middleton said.

Colorado voters narrowly passed a constitutional amendment in 1984 that prohibits state dollars being used to pay for abortions, meaning that public employees and people with Medicaid cannot have an abortion covered by their insurance.

The proposed ballot question states in its legislative declaration that the amendment has had “discriminatory and harmful effects.”

The state’s Title Board will now consider the initiatives and set language for them.

The abortion-rights group behind the measures will choose which one to try and get on the 2024 ballot. They will have to gather signatures from at least 2% of voters in each state Senate district, which amounts to about 125,000 people. A constitutional amendment needs approval from at least 55% of voters.

There could also be a ballot measure seeking to restrict abortion access in Colorado next year, dubbed “Protections for a Living Child.” The title board set a title for three of the four filed initiatives under that name on Wednesday.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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