Even without Roe v. Wade, abortions will remain legal in Colorado for now

Posted at 7:31 PM, May 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-03 21:33:51-04

DENVER — A draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that was leaked to Politico shows that justices are leaning toward overturning Roe v. Wade. However, even without the 1973 court ruling, abortions will remain legal in Colorado for the time being.

Last month, Governor Jared Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act into law. House Bill 22-1279, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, says that state and local public entities are prohibited from interfering with a person’s right to continue a pregnancy, give birth or have an abortion. It also calls people’s access to contraception a fundamental right.

However, the law is a statutory change and could be reversed with a simple majority vote by state lawmakers or a ballot question.

“It's very much linked to, kind of, the political future of the state of who's in control. So, the more secure option is to move to a constitutional amendment,” said Joshua Wilson, a professor of politics at the University of Denver.

Now, abortion access advocates are working on a way to protect those rights by adding them to the state constitution. The nonprofit Cobalt and several other organizations are working on a ballot question for the 2024 election.

“We're going to work to overturn a constitutional ban on state funding for abortion and work on some protective language that looks like the statute,” said Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt.

The funding portion of the question stems back to a 1984 amendment that was passed saying state funding cannot be used for abortions. That includes Medicaid funding.

“We really think that this is a real a negative issue, and it needs to be fixed," Middleton said. "And so we need to talk to voters about why we think it's important."

Even before the Supreme Court draft opinion was leaked, anti-abortion advocates had been working on their own ballot question to limit access to the procedures in the state.

Initiative 56 declares, “Every child, regardless of age, developmental ability or disability, health, prognosis, sex/gender, socio-economic background, origin, nationality, or ethnicity deserves to live his or her one life to the fullest extent possible.”

It goes on to say that children shall be protected equally and that no abortions will be allowed in the state unless it’s meant to save the life/health of the mother and child, remove a child that’s no longer living or remove or attempt to relocate an ectopic pregnancy. Those who perform the abortions would face murder charges if the initiative passes.

Numerous other abortion restriction measures have been unsuccessful in recent years, including an attempt in 2020 to end late-term abortions.

Giuliana Day was the organizer behind the 2020 attempt. She says even though Proposition 115 failed, she was happy that she had a chance to talk to voters and educate them on the issue. She told Denver7 she's encouraged by the Supreme Court’s draft opinion.

“I think we are gaining a lot of momentum,” Day said. “I'm very optimistic. This creates a lot of excitement in the pro-life community, no doubt about it.”

Day spoke with the organizers of the most recent ballot measure and says she is worried about the number of signatures they need to gather within such a short period of time. However, even if this ballot question doesn’t pass, Day says the education piece is critical if anti-abortion advocates are going to sway voters.

“Little by little, we're changing the hearts and the minds of the people," Day said. "In fact, more people are awakening to the reality of what abortion is. Abortion is a brutal procedure."

Day says she's not planning on running another initiative in the near future, but says any attempt mush be approached with compassion for the women going through the decision.

While advocates focus on collecting signatures, Republicans and Democrats are also concerned about the effect the Supreme Court's decision will have on midterm elections.

“This November, I'm gonna tell everybody vote like your life depends on it, because it does,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver. “This is a reminder that majorities matter, that who we elect into office to then carry policies that will respect our rights.”

Wilson is paying attention to the midterm election politics and believes the issue of abortion could cause people on both sides of the aisle to mobilize to elect their preferred candidates.

In the meantime, Gonzales is also calling on Congress to act to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act.

“I just want to say that we have done our work here in Colorado, but we need Congress to do their job,” she said.

Polis and 16 other governors signed a letter Tuesday calling on Congress to pass federal legislation protecting abortions.

The Women’s Health Protection Act was introduced last year. It passed the House but has been stuck in the Senate. Senate Democrats are not confident that the bill has the votes needed to pass, and some are unwilling to try to change the Congressional filibuster rules to force a vote. So, for now, that bill is staying put.