Abortion access would be protected in Colorado’s constitution under a pair of 2024 ballot measures filed earlier this month by abortion-rights groups.
Each of the initiatives would also lift the state’s nearly 40-year-old constitutional ban on state dollars being used to pay for abortions.
Democrats in the state legislature passed a bill in 2022 guaranteeing abortion access in state law. But that measure could be overturned or undermined by a simple majority vote in the General Assembly, or by the passage of a statutory ballot measure, which also only requires a simple majority to pass.
Initiatives 89 and 90 would go a step further by putting the nearly unfettered right to get an abortion in Colorado in the state’s constitution, which could only be overturned by a 55% vote of the people. Getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot itself is also immensely difficult.
Karen Middleton, who leads Cobalt Advocates, one of Colorado’s most prominent abortion-rights groups, said the initiatives are aimed at guaranteeing abortion access in the state for the “long haul.”
“This is a planned, proactive measure,” she said. “We have been looking at this for a long time.”
Abortion access is already effectively unrestricted in Colorado. Other than the constitutional ban on public money being used to pay for abortions, the only real barrier to access is a law that requires health care providers to notify a parent or guardian of a minor at least 48 hours before the child is scheduled to get an abortion.
Colorado has become a haven for people living in other parts of the country where there are strict limits on when a pregnancy can be terminated. The restrictions proliferated and became more stringent after the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 decision protecting the right to an abortion without excessive government restriction.
More than 25 million women ages 15 to 44, or about 2 in 5 nationally, now live in states where there are more restrictions on abortion access than there were before, according to The Associated Press.
Amendment 3, Colorado’s constitutional prohibition on state dollars being used to pay for abortions, was narrowly passed by voters in 1984. Among its effects, the amendment blocked Medicaid recipients and state employees from having their abortions covered by their insurance.
The long process to make the 2024 ballot
Republicans and anti-abortion groups are sure to fight Initiatives 89 and 90 in what could be an expensive battle. There are several ballot measures that would restrict abortion access being pursued in Colorado for the 2024 ballot.
The abortion-rights groups behind the measures, which are part of the Colorado Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Coalition, will decide to pursue one of the two initiatives, not both.
The questions will be vetted by the state’s Title Board, which is housed in the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. The board will set the ballot language for the initiatives.
To get one of the questions on the November 2024 ballot, the abortion-rights group will then have to collect signatures from about 125,000 Colorado voters, including at least 2% of the registered voters in each of Colorado’s 35 state Senate districts.
Middleton said the groups behind the measure plan to collect signatures through volunteer and paid canvassers.
Since the initiatives seek to amend the constitution, they would also have to be supported by at least 55% of voters to pass.
The measures say that government “shall not deny, impede, or discriminate against the exercise of the right to abortion, including prohibiting health insurance coverage for abortion.”
Middleton said she’s confident the initiatives will have enough support to pass. Abortion-rights groups, however, have mostly been on the defensive against ballot measures and bills seeking to restrict abortion access in Colorado.
Initiatives 89 and 90 will test how supportive Colorado voters are of abortion rights.
In addition to Cobalt, the Colorado Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Coalition includes the ACLU of Colorado, Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, New Era Colorado, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and ProgressNow Colorado.