Colorado Anti-Abortion Group May Ask For More Time To Gather Signatures Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

March 19, 2020
The Colorado State Captiol. March 12, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)The Colorado State Captiol. March 12, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)Kevin J. Beaty/CPR News
The Colorado State Captiol. March 12, 2020.

Due Date Too Late, a Colorado anti-abortion group, filed a petition asking the state for more time to collect signatures amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado.

The complaint was filed as the campaign submitted signatures on March 4. It argues that the Colorado statute requiring petitions be filed six months from the initiative title date is in conflict with Colorado's constitution that instead requires initiative petitions be filed three months before the general election, in this case, Aug. 3.

"We're just saying that that six months deadline makes it almost impossible for anybody like us who's not using a signature firm to collect," said Suzanne Staiert, the group's attorney and a former deputy secretary of state. "We're required to collect this 125,000 signatures, and if you're truly a grassroots type organization like we are, and you're not paying professional circulators, then it's really hard to cobble together that number in a six-month time frame."

The Secretary of State's office declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

If the measure were passed, it would ban abortions at 22-weeks, except in the case of a threat to the mother's life. A doctor who performed the procedure past 22-weeks could be charged with a class-one misdemeanor and fined, as well as have their license suspended for three years. The initiative specifies that the woman who sought the abortion would not be punished.

Due Date Too Late collected 137,624 signatures, and after an initial randomized review, the Secretary of State's office says the group has an estimated 97.51 percent of the 124,632 required signatures to make the ballot.

The next step is for a line-by-line analysis, which the Secretary of State's office has until April 4 to complete.

If the state finds that the campaign does not have enough signatures, then Due Date Too Late has 15 days to collect signatures and gather additional ones to meet the requirement.

"If it holds, and we only have to go get 5,000 signatures, we think we can still do that. Even in this environment," Staiert said. "We did not think we could do it if it was going to be a huge number."

If the group does get the signatures required in that period, then it's unlikely they will pursue the litigation, Staiert said. But how the group will get the signatures and still maintain social distancing is hard to say. Staiert said the group will meet people in parks in groups of no more than 10.

Lauren Castillo, a spokesperson for the campaign, said she's confident they will get the signatures needed, but she's unsure how COVID-19 may affect the campaign in the coming months.

"We're just as excited and eager to hear the results as anyone else and are just kind of waiting to see what might impact it considering what's currently happening with the coronavirus in the state," Castillo said.

In a statement Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt (formerly NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado), said that using a pandemic as a pretext to get more signatures is "offensive and wrong."

“Coloradans have repeatedly rejected abortion bans by landslide margins, so it’s not a surprise that this one appears to have fallen short on the signatures needed," Middleton said. "Coloradans strongly believe that health care decisions belong between patients and doctors, without interference from politicians. They have made their views clear and proponents should respect that belief. And at a time when self-distancing has been requested by the Governor, now is not the time to put others’ lives and wellbeing at risk with a politically-motivated signature-gathering operation."

Editor's Note: Owing to an editing error, part of the group's name had been left out. We've updated this story.