An initiative that would have restricted abortion access will not be on Colorado’s November ballot

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Eva Martinez holds a sign during an anti-abortion rally on the Colorado Capitol steps. March 12, 2022.

An initiative aiming to make abortion illegal in nearly all circumstances will not be on Colorado’s ballot.

Organizers said they did not collect the required number of signatures by the state’s deadline on Monday. Initiative 56 would have put the national debate over abortion front and center in the fall election and could have generated consequences far beyond the state’s borders — Colorado is becoming an island for abortion access.

Though proponents declined to release the number of signatures they collected, the initiative raised little money and instead depended on the efforts of more than 400 volunteers across Colorado. 

“We have met amazing people during this process who wanted to protect the lives of children and women in our state,” said organizer Faye Barnhart. “... I see this as a beginning — we’re going to continue to educate the state.”

The initiative would have made abortion illegal except in cases of ectopic pregnancies or the health of the child or pregnant person.

At least five states — a record number, according to Vox — have ballot measures related to abortion this year, some to restrict the procedure and others to cement the right to it. Last week, Kansans voted in a landslide to keep abortion protections in the state constitution.

Abortion is a top issue for voters

Ahead of the fall election, CPR News is speaking with a wide range of voters around the state and has encountered many who say abortion is a top issue they want to hear candidates talk about.

“It's terrifying that I was born in the ‘80s, and something that happened before I was born is now being taken away from us,” said Katie Metz of Larimer County. “It’s something that my future kids will have to worry about, that my nieces will have to worry about.”

Data from the primary could indicate that women of reproductive age were especially motivated to vote Democratic — 900 women ages 24 to 34 cast in-person Democratic ballots, outpacing men of that age group by hundreds of ballots on both sides of the aisle.

CU Boulder political science professor Michaele Ferguson said that those in-person votes demonstrated a high level of enthusiasm, since Democratic primaries were mostly uncontested. People who vote in-person may want to make a statement, she said — or may decide last minute to vote.

Ferguson attributed the bump to the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade just days before the primary election. She expects abortion to stay a major issue for voters across the political spectrum. 

“I would be surprised if there isn't a massive campaign to try to get out women's votes in particular around questions about reproductive rights, but also getting out the conservative vote for the anti-abortion side,” Ferguson said. “I don't think there was enough time for the primary for that to be a major mobilizing effort, it was more about individuals deciding to go in-person.”

A lack of political and financial support for Initiative 56

Initiative 56 organizer Angela Eicher said she expected pushback to her efforts from pro-abortion access groups — but actually found more opposition from prominent figures she hoped would support the initiative.

“When you reach out to (anti-abortion) leaders around the state, it seems like everybody has their own idea of how they want to do something,” she said. “There’s a lot of resistance of: ‘Well, no, that’s not the right strategy.’”

The issue group behind the measure raised about $7,500, according to most recent filings. It’s rare for initiatives to make the Colorado ballot without significant funding, according to both liberal and conservative political consultants.

This year’s campaign followed in the footsteps of a 2020 initiative, which sought to prohibit abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy. That measure failed, becoming the fourth initiative restricting abortions to be rejected by Coloradans since 2008. 

Though Initiative 56 organizers did not gather enough signatures this time, they said they are still encouraged to keep going. Reflecting on her time organizing, Eicher said she felt humbled.

“We invoked God’s leadership from the beginning,” she said. “When we just go out and try to do as God asks, there’s ripple effects we don’t ever see.”