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Nicolais: Have anti-abortion Coloradans finally proposed an initiative that can pass?

After failing to learn their lesson from failed personhood campaigns, proponents of Initiative 120 have put forward a bill that may appeal voters at the center of Colorado’s political spectrum

After multiple attempts, anti-abortion Coloradans have finally found a ballot proposal with a chance to pass.

Initiative 120, tentatively titled “Prohibition on Late-Term Abortions,” represents a change in approach that will put abortion front and center during next year’s election.

For more than a decade, hardline anti-abortion Coloradans pushed various “personhood” initiatives that would have imposed a near ban on abortion. The personhood efforts lost at the ballot box over, and over, and over again.

Mario Nicolais

Always on the losing by almost two-to-one margins, personhood did nothing for anti-abortion advocates but alienate the very majorities necessary to implement change. In contrast, abortion-rights advocates like Planned Parenthood used the campaigns as a boon to raise money and data mine supporters. 

By taking an uncompromising position, personhood supporters necessarily played defense against attacks 

In the end, even high-profile Republicans who supported earlier incarnations backed away from the personhood cause. During his successful challenge to Sen. Mark Udall, Sen. Cory Gardner famously declared it “was a bad idea driven by good intentions. I was not right. I can’t support personhood now. I can’t support personhood going forward.”

Over the long-term personhood initiatives not only failed but weakened anti-abortion support in Colorado while strengthening the abortion-rights contingent. The result set Colorado among the most liberal abortion-rights states.

Approved by Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office to begin collecting signatures earlier this week, the proponents of Initiative 120 have clearly taken a new direction.

Despite protests from adamant abortion-rights groups, the initiative language makes it a clear compromise between the heated extremes of both parties. That might make it a good bet to attract the votes it will need in the middle.

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While states like Alabama, Missouri, Georgia and Louisiana have recently enacted laws all but banning abortion, this proposal comes off as far more middle of the road, palatable to a much larger electorate. For example, there are concerns over banning abortion before a woman even knows she is pregnant, a common critique of laws like Missouri’s, which bar doctors from performing an abortion after eight weeks.

At 22 weeks, women in all but the rarest circumstances know they are pregnant. Similarly, the proposed law doesn’t tie restrictions to fetal heartbeats, another oft-criticized component of other anti-abortion laws. 

Those differentiations will help the advocates of Initiative 120 campaign for its passage. Even more important, those advocates should be able to fight on the offensive rather than settling for the defensive position their predecessors needed to take. 

At 22 weeks, a fetus borders on viability outside the womb as an extremely premature baby. That is particularly true when the time is measured as Initiative 120 does, from a woman’s last menstrual cycle, rather than the time of conception.

While abortion-rights advocates will certainly push back hard on that conclusion, defending the right to an abortion post-viability is monumentally more difficult than pre-viability. Abortion-rights support tends to soften with many voters when a fetus in the womb one moment could be a baby in the world the next.

The argument only gets harder for abortion-rights advocates as pregnancies proceed. Outside of saving the life of the mother, an exception Initiative 120 provides, I can’t imagine many voters becoming too comfortable with the gruesome image of an abortion only a couple weeks from term.

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With six months to collect almost 125,000 signatures, I’d be shocked if supporters don’t turn in almost double that figure. Afterall, personhood made it on the ballot three times. This time, however, the end outcome may be different.

I do not see Initiative 120 losing by the same lopsided 70-30 margins personhood did. While it may not garner the necessary majority for passage, my guess is that it will eclipse 45% of the vote.

That would be success and progress for Colorado’s anti-abortion movement and would ensure the conversation will remain at the forefront of our state’s political discussion.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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