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Proposed constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights in Colorado earns ballot title

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) A state board set the title for a potential Colorado ballot question next year that would put the right to an abortion into the state Constitution.

The state’s Title Board set titles Wednesday for two slightly different initiatives that were filed by an abortion-rights coalition in September.

The initiatives would recognize the right to an abortion under the Colorado Constitution and allow the procedure to be covered by health insurance plans for state and local government employees. A 40-year old constitutional ban currently prohibits state dollars from being used to pay for abortions.

The Title Board’s role is to determine if a proposed initiative meets a single-subject requirement and to distill what language voters will read on their ballots. It is a non-political body and is made up of representatives for Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Attorney General Phil Weiser, and the Office of Legislative Legal Services.

There was some debate over whether the title should include the phrase “publicly funded health insurance.” The board opted for language that was explicit on the specific population the amendment would affect, deciding on “health insurance plans for Colorado state and local government employees and for enrollees in state and local governmental insurance programs.”

Once a title is set, the group behind an initiative can prepare a petition format. After the secretary of state signs off on that format, proponents can start gathering the required number of signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. For a constitutional amendment, they will need signatures of at least 2% of voters in each of the state’s 35 state Senate districts.

The coalition behind the abortion-rights measures has said it will decide to pursue one of the two initiatives that got a title on Wednesday.

Abortion access in Colorado is protected in state statute, but a constitutional amendment would strengthen that protection.

Anti-abortion measure

Also on Wednesday, the Title Board denied a rehearing request for one of three proposed statutory anti-abortion initiatives, dubbed “Protections for a Living Child,” which would effectively ban abortion in the state. The board had set titles earlier this month for the three initiatives, but backers wanted a rehearing for the fiscal summary attached to the initiative.

Faye Barnhart and Angela Eicher, the two women behind the initiative, claimed that the fiscal summary “appears prejudicial and could be misleading to the voter,” they wrote in their rehearing motion request.

The fiscal summary states that the measure could increase state revenue from criminal and court fees, but reduce state revenue because licensed facilities would close and not pay fees anymore. Barnhart and Eicher wanted the fiscal summary to reflect the state revenue impact that could occur if women did not have abortions and those babies grew up into wage-earning and taxpaying Coloradans, among other language changes.

“I think you’re using the fiscal summary as a tool to persuade voters to support your measure,” board chair Theresa Conley said. “With both the titles and fiscal notes, you don’t extrapolate by all the possible changes that could happen and all of the things that could result. That’s making a lot of assumptions.”

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