Navigating the Rocky Road to Abortion Access One Ballot Measure at a Time
On the 51st anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v Wade, backers of a ballot initiative to codify Coloradan’s right to an abortion took to the Capitol over the weekend and on Monday. The ballot measure seeks to overturn a voter decision from 1984.
Colorado ballot proposal #89 looks at amending a portion of the state’s constitution that limits healthcare coverage for abortions for state and local public employees or individuals who are on Medicaid, even in cases of rape or incest.
The reproductive rights organization, Cobalt, is spearheading the campaign to amend the state’s constitution.
The objective, according to President and CEO Karen Middleton, is to provide more enduring protection to reproductive healthcare, ensuring it cannot be overturned by a subsequent legislature. Middleton said that the ban prohibits employees at public institutions, such as universities and hospitals, from utilizing their health insurance to cover the costs of an abortion.
“There’s a real libertarian streak, I would say, in Colorado that says, ‘we don’t want government interfering in these decisions,’ and having a barrier to what your own health insurance pays for is a government barrier.”
The marches held over the weekend were in coordination with nationwide demonstrations in support of reproductive rights. Since the Dobbs decision which overturned Roe v Wade, public opinion on the issue has shifted in favor of reproductive rights. According to a Gallup poll from last year, over 50% of Americans identify as “pro-choice”. In Colorado, voters have blocked attempts to limit access to reproductive healthcare numerous times over the last decade.
The proposal also asks voters to eliminate the state’s prohibition on taxpayer funding for abortions and would seek to allow the state to fund grants for organizations that provide reproductive healthcare.
Mobilizing the vote
Nicole Hensel, the executive director of New Era Colorado, a nonprofit aiming to mobilize the youth vote, emphasized, “This is going to be the top-of-ticket race in Colorado, and we really see this as a turnout driver, particularly for young voters who make up one-third of the electorate here in Colorado.”
Hensel suggested that this initiative could potentially bring people to the polls, given that many younger voters are less likely to align with any political party.
“If you have a young person in your life you know that autonomy is really important to them — being able to make their own decisions, being able to have control over their futures,” she stated.
The matter of reproductive rights is widely acknowledged for its role in boosting Democratic voter turnout nationwide during the 2022 midterms. In Michigan, an abortion referendum is attributed to assisting Democrats in retaining control of the governor’s office. However, whether the issue will wield a similar influence in a state as politically aligned with the Democratic party as Colorado remains uncertain.
In 2022 the state saw a record number of abortions, the most performed in the state since 1985. The cause of this was the restrictive laws, and all-out bans on abortions passed in surrounding states. About two in seven Colorado abortions in 2022 were performed on out-of-state residents, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data
Last year, Governor Polis signed into law a package of healthcare bills protecting Coloradan’s access to abortions. The main goal of the legislation was to ensure people living in the surrounding states whose access to care had been severely restricted since the overturning of Roe v Wade, could safely travel to Colorado to receive reproductive healthcare. The law also made Colorado a safe haven for those seeking gender-affirming care.
Restrictions on abortion access disproportionately affect marginalized communities, exacerbating existing disparities in healthcare. Marginalized individuals, particularly those facing economic challenges, often bear the brunt of restrictive abortion policies.
Marginalized communities, including people of color and those with limited access to comprehensive sex education, may encounter barriers in navigating complex healthcare systems and understanding their reproductive rights. Research from the Guttmacher Institute underscores that the intersectionality of race, socio-economic status, and geographical location contributes to disparities in abortion access, with marginalized groups facing increased hurdles.
Amidst the ongoing national shift in favor of reproductive rights, the proposal in Colorado signifies a pivotal moment in the fight for autonomy over one’s healthcare decisions, particularly impacting marginalized communities facing disproportionate barriers to abortion access.
As the state grapples with less restrictive laws, the initiative not only represents a crucial step in safeguarding reproductive rights but also emerges as a focal point in the political landscape, potentially influencing the engagement of young voters and shaping the trajectory of reproductive healthcare policies in Colorado.