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Supporters of a 22-week abortion ban in Colorado turn in signatures, but may struggle to make 2020 ballot

Due Date Too Late, the organization pushing for the ban, added 43,000 signatures during a last-minute push that included circulating petitions at Ash Wednesday services.

An advertisement for The Resource Center, a Greeley pregnancy center, is posted at 10th Avenue and 20th Street next to the University of Northern Colorado campus in Greeley on Dec. 4, 2019. (Valerie Mosley, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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The campaign to ban abortions in Colorado after 22 weeks of pregnancy gathered 43,000 signatures in six days in a last-minute rush to meet a deadline to get on the November ballot, many collected at Ash Wednesday services at churches across the state.

The “Due Date Too Late” campaign submitted several boxes of petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday afternoon, and now the office must determine whether the group has enough valid signatures to get their question before voters.

Campaign leaders said the boxes contained more than 135,000 signatures after a small army of volunteers visited church services last week to mark the start of Lent. Volunteers asked pastors and ministers to speak about the initiative from the pulpit and then waited by the door with clipboards. Others set up tables in fellowship space during a week when church attendance is higher than normal. 

Measures need at least 124,632 valid signatures from registered voters to make the ballot in Colorado. Campaigns typically aim for a cushion of at least 30% because thousands of signatures are invalidated when state officials check them against the list of registered voters. 

It’s unclear whether Due Date Too Late will meet the bar because it turned in about 25,000 fewer signatures than the target of 160,000 for most ballot campaigns. It could take a few weeks for the secretary of state to determine whether the group has enough signatures.

If the secretary of state determines the campaign does not have enough valid signatures, Due Date Too Late will have 15 days — a cure period — to meet the required number.

Volunteers are standing by, campaign spokeswoman Lauren Castillo said. The campaign has relied on church members as well as community groups that provide services for women experiencing unplanned pregnancies to collect signatures.

“There is a ton of momentum within the communities that have been involved,” she said. “They are just so encouraged. They want to know what’s next, what can they do to help in their churches and in their communities.”

Of the 135,000 signatures submitted, 26% were from unaffiliated voters and 11% were from Democrats, according to the Due Date to Late campaign. Other measures to limit abortion in Colorado, including three so-called “personhood” initiatives on the ballot in 2008, 2010 and 2014, have failed by overwhelming margins.

In contrast, the campaign to let voters decide whether to reintroduce wolves to Colorado turned in more than 208,000 signatures to the secretary of state. That initiative qualified for the ballot in January. 

Opponents of the abortion ban measure, as well as political observers, doubted the campaign will have enough signatures and said it will need the cure period to make a last-ditch effort. 

“When you only have a 10,000-signature cushion, that’s cutting it very close,” said Jennie Peek-Dunstone, who is president of Alpine Public Affairs, a Democratic firm that ran the wolf reintroduction signature-gathering drive. 

Conservative campaigns, in which signatures are often collected at Republican events or in churches, typically have a higher percentage of valid signatures, Peek-Dunstone said. Still, signatures are invalidated for such things as an address that doesn’t match voter registration records or an incorrect date — like writing 2019 instead of 2020.

ProgressNow Colorado, which opposes an abortion ban, accused the campaign of using medically inaccurate information and lies about patients to persuade people to sign. “As the process continues, I’m curious to see how many valid signatures they collected and if they will meet their threshold,” said Fawn Bolak, the group’s communications director.

“If this campaign does secure the necessary amount of signatures, Colorado voters have already rejected abortion bans at the ballot box three times over. I have no doubt that they will do it again,” she added.

The campaign’s signatures were due Wednesday, the same day a divided U.S. Supreme Court took up arguments on an abortion case from Louisiana that abortion rights supporters warned could have huge implications for Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationally in 1973.

Volunteers with the Due Date Too Late campaign brought boxes of signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo provided by Sage Naumann, Colorado Senate Republicans)

The high court is considering a Louisiana law that said doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Abortion advocates say the Louisiana “Unsafe Abortion Protection Act,” passed in 2014 but blocked by a federal judge, would leave only one doctor allowed to perform abortions in the entire state.

The court struck down a nearly identical Texas law in 2016, but that was before two conservative justices — Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch of Colorado — were appointed to the court by President Donald Trump. 

Colorado legalized abortion in 1967 and is one of the few states without restrictions, including on abortions later in pregnancy. The abortion-ban proposal, called Initiative 120, would prohibt abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy except in cases in which the mother’s health was in danger. It proposes no criminal penalties for pregnant women.

Karen Middleton, president of the abortion advocacy organization Cobalt, said it was “a little eerie” that the Colorado campaign was turning in its signatures the same day the Supreme Court was weighing in on the Louisiana abortion measure and said she hoped voters would take note of both events. Roe v. Wade is under threat, she said. 

Middleton doubted, though, that the abortion ban would make the ballot in Colorado. “Those are very tight numbers for getting onto the ballot,” she said, “but if they do, we are prepared to talk to voters and reach those bipartisan coalitions that have consistently said no to restrictions on abortion care in Colorado.”

Rising Sun