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Reproductive justice coalition launches campaign to put abortion access in Colorado Constitution

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) Advocates for reproductive justice launched their campaign Monday to put the right to abortion access in the Colorado Constitution, on what would have been the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

The backers of Initiative 89 have until the end of April to collect the approximately 125,000 signatures necessary to make it on the November ballot. In a kickoff rally on the Colorado Capitol steps, organizers asked for volunteers to help with the effort.

Similar kickoff events are scheduled this week in Pueblo, Grand Junction, Boulder, Greeley and Montrose.

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“We will make sure that the fabric of this state, the Constitution on which it was built, the document that validates us as a state, guarantees a woman’s right to protect her health,” said Bianka Emerson, the president of Colorado Black Women for Political Action.

Colorado already has strong abortion protections in place and is an island of protected care as surrounding states restrict access following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2022 overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

In 2022, Democratic lawmakers passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act to protect abortion in state statute. Last year, Democrats passed another package of bills to protect doctors who perform abortions on patients who travel from states with abortion bans, clamp down on clinics that offer so-called “abortion reversal” procedures, and require large employers to offer abortion coverage in their health care plans, with an exemption for public employees.

The proposed constitutional amendment, however, would lift a ban on public funds for abortions. That would mean the approximately 1 million people who work at public institutions like hospitals, universities and the Capitol itself would be able to use their work health insurance to pay for an abortion.

Colorado voters approved the public fund ban in 1984, when Amendment 3 passed with just 50.39% of the vote.

“Abortion is health care, and your insurance should cover your health care. That is true no matter who you are — the state ban on funding abortion care hurts people who are already struggling and people that we rely on every day for our public services. Right now, our decisions about our bodies, our future and our lives are threatened by a 40-year-old law that wasn’t even popular at the time,” said Rebecca Cohen, an OB-GYN and abortion provider in Denver.

It's past time that we ensure everyone can get the health care that they need regardless of where they live, the type of job that they have and their insurance.

– U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen

Voters in Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada and South Dakota could also decide on constitutional amendments on abortion access this year. Last year, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment ensuring abortion access.

The coalition behind the proposed initiative in Colorado includes the state ACLU chapter, the abortion fund and reproductive rights group Cobalt, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, New Era Colorado, ProgressNow Colorado and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Leaders emphasized the access issue on Monday, saying that even though abortion is legal in Colorado, many patients face barriers to care. By lifting the public funding ban, more pregnant people would be able to easily access care.

“Even though we have it codified in state law, far too many people still do not have access because of the barriers that were put into our state Constitution in 1984. I looked up how much it costs to have an abortion now in Colorado, and if you are struggling and living in poverty, you can’t come up with over $1,000 for a procedure, let alone take care of a child you don’t want,” U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a former state lawmaker who now represents Colorado’s 7th Congressional District. “It’s past time that we ensure everyone can get the health care that they need regardless of where they live, the type of job that they have and their insurance.”

Last week, lawmakers passed a joint resolution commemorating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and encouraging voters to approve the upcoming constitutional amendment.

“As we lament (the Dobbs decision) from the U.S. Supreme Court, I am grateful to the Coloradans who are enacting not only upon our legacy as being a trailblazer in this state but who are also blazing new paths forward to ensure that we do everything we can as a state, “ Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, said last Thursday before the state Senate took its vote on the resolution. “I look forward to November to see once again Coloradans enshrine the access to abortion care that we know changes lives.”

Voters could potentially face two opposing ballot measures on abortion in the fall. Supporters for Initiative 81, an outright abortion ban, have begun collecting signatures.

Colorado voters have rejected abortion restrictions four times since 2008, including a 22-week ban in 2020.

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