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Colorado GOP, Catholic Church mobilize as 2020 ballot deadline for 22-week abortion ban nears

The Coalition for Women and Children says they’ll gather enough voter signatures to qualify, but others, including Colorado Right to Life, raise doubt

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, addresses the House chamber as the second regular session of the 72nd Colorado General Assembly convenes at the Colorado State Capitol on Jan. 8, 2020 in Denver. “I want the public to vote because these are common sense, measured approaches that poll extremely well throughout the state,” Neville said in support of the ballot measure. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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A split in the anti-abortion movement is generating questions about whether supporters can gather enough signatures in the next two weeks to put a ban on abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy on the November ballot. 

The Colorado Republican Party and the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver are supporting the “End Late Abortions in Colorado” initiative to change state law. But the measure doesn’t have the support of all abortion opponents, most notably Colorado Right to Life, which will support only a total ban on abortion.

The Coalition for Women and Children, the issue committee promoting the effort, is using volunteers across the state to gather 124,632 valid voter signatures ahead of a March 4 deadline to submit signatures. 

Lauren Castillo, a spokeswoman for Due Date Too Late, as the campaign is also known, declined to say how many signatures have been collected. “We anticipate having way more than 124,000 signatures needed to get on the November ballot,” she said last week.

It’s a low-budget effort, records show. The group raised about $33,000 through the end of December and a campaign to raise another $10,000 through the FreedomFy crowd-funding platform raised $1,345 as of Friday.

Typically, ballot campaigns raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire professional signature collectors.

Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt, an abortion rights group formerly called NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said her organization is preparing to work against any ballot initiative in November. She also expressed skepticism about the success of the signature gathering.

Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt, formally NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, for the last six years. (Handout)

“Practically speaking, I have not seen them out the way I have seen them in other years,” Middleton said. “So I don’t know if they actually have the energy and infrastructure to make it happen.”

In fact, Colorado Right to Life isn’t supporting the initiative. The group opposes anything other than an outright ban on any abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. So incremental steps are unacceptable, said Susan Sutherland, vice president for the organization. 

“We are definitely not supporting this initiative,” Sutherland said. “We don’t regulate abortion. We say abortion is murder, and it is wrong at any stage, actually.”

Colorado Right to Life helped put so-called “personhood” initiatives to ban abortion on the ballot in 2008, 2010 and 2014. All failed overwhelmingly. Sutherland said the group doesn’t have any legislative or ballot plans at this point.

MORE: Campaign to ask Colorado voters to ban abortions after 22 weeks can begin collecting signatures

“Colorado’s a pretty tough place right now for anything of a conservative nature,” she said. 

Like Middleton, Sutherland also questioned whether the current effort will succeed in making the ballot. “They’ve got the blessing of the Catholic Church in Colorado — they should have wrapped up this measure in a month,” she said.

The group had six months to gather signatures.

The Rev. Geoff Bennett, a Roman Catholic deacon and vice president of Catholic Charities, said at least 40 to 50 parishes are collecting signatures for the initiative. After the failure of other ballot initiatives, Bennett said the incremental approach of banning abortion after 22 weeks is a step in the right direction.

“Obviously, the archdiocese would prefer that there are no abortions in Colorado,” he said. “But understanding that it’s been going on since 1967, this is an opportunity to start scaling that back and protecting children that, if born, would have a chance to live outside the womb.”

Colorado was the first state to liberalize abortion laws in 1967, which were again loosened after the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide in 1973.

The Colorado Republican Party is supporting the effort by providing notarization of signature packets at its office. Party Vice Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown was the face of the 2008 personhood effort.

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A legislative effort to put a similar 22-week prohibition into state law failed last week in a House committee as the Democratic majority rejected the bill.

Colorado is one of seven states with no time limit on when an abortion may be performed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that supports abortion rights. 

“I want the public to vote because these are common sense, measured approaches that poll extremely well throughout the state,” House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, of Castle Rock, said in support of the ballot measure.

But abortion rights advocates, including Middleton, say the initiative isn’t needed because abortions late in a 39-week, full-term pregnancy are rare. “Eighty-nine percent of all abortions are in the first trimester,” Middleton said.

The deadline for signatures also is the date of oral arguments on two abortion-related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Both deal with Louisiana laws, including a challenge to a law requiring any doctor performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. 

March 4 also is the day that a federal rule takes effect requiring abortion providers to have separate financial books if they receive federal family planning money.

Colorado abortion rights supporters say they will be prepared if the ballot initiative does gather enough valid signatures. “We’re ready and we have a very strong activist base across all across the state of Colorado,” Middleton said, “and a whole network of organizations that will work to defeat this ballot measure.”