Jan 22, 2024 - Politics

Abortion ballot fight escalates in Colorado ahead of 2024 election

Illustration of a red caduceus crossed with a blue caduceus.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Colorado voters are looking at a stark choice on the 2024 ballot when it comes to abortion: guarantee constitutional access, or ban it and make it a crime.

Why it matters: The potential for competing ballot measures, both of which represent the far ends of the political spectrum, will make Colorado a key battleground in the national debate about reproductive rights.

Reality check: Abortion is protected in Colorado with the passage of a new law in 2022, but advocates want to make that right more secure by putting it in the state constitution.

State of play: A coalition of abortion rights advocates is launching a campaign today — on what would have been the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade — to collect about 125,000 valid voter signatures by April 26 to qualify its initiative for the November ballot.

  • The measure, known as Proposed Initiative 89, would enshrine the unfettered right to access abortion in the Colorado Constitution and remove the current prohibition on using taxpayer dollars to pay for the care.
  • If approved, it would allow roughly 1 million local and state government employees and people on Medicaid to use insurance to cover abortion services.

What they're saying: "It's very simple and straightforward," says Karen Middleton, the president of Cobalt, which is leading the effort. "It's saying that we are affirming the right to access abortion in Colorado. And we are preventing the government from impeding funding."

Between the lines: To make the ballot, advocates must meet tough rules that require 2% of registered voters to sign petitions in each of the 35 state Senate districts.

  • If certified, the measure also would need to meet the higher threshold of 55% support to win because it's a constitutional change.

The other side: Anti-abortion advocates began collecting signatures for Initiative 81 weeks ago and must finish by April 18.

  • The Colorado Life Initiative would ban all types of abortion services without exception, prohibit certain birth control and allow prosecution for murder.
  • "What that means is all lives will … be saved and we are not going to destroy children," the measure's sponsor, Faye Barnhart, told us.

Of note: The state's voters have rejected restrictions on abortion four times since 2008, including a 22-week ban in 2020. A proposed measure in 2022 failed to collect enough signatures to qualify.


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