Protect abortion in Colorado’s state constitution? Backers of a proposed amendment hope voters will do just that

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The Colorado State Capitol building, seen from atop the downtown Sheraton hotel. Dec. 29, 2023.

Backers of an effort to lift Colorado’s constitutional ban on public funds for abortion are beginning a big push to get the question on this fall’s ballot. 

The effort, which would also affirm the right to legal abortion in the state constitution, has less than six months to collect more than 124,000 valid signatures from across the state. 

The amendment mirrors language Gov. Jared Polis signed into law in 2023.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Colorado has seen an increase in the number of out-of-state residents seeking abortions. It’s one of the only states in the country that has no limits on when an abortion can be performed during pregnancy.

The reproductive rights non-profit Cobalt is spearheading the effort to amend the state constitution. President and CEO Karen Middleton said the goal is to give the procedure more durable protection, which could not be reversed by a future legislature.

“And then we are saying that, because it's a durable right, that we are not able to restrict the actions of state or local funding from being able to not pay for certain procedures under insurance,” said Middleton.

Voters put a ban on public taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortion into the state constitution in 1984. 

Middleton said the ban means that employees who work at public institutions like universities and hospitals can’t use their health insurance to pay for an abortion. 

She thinks voters will support undoing the 40-year-old restriction. 

“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.” 

In addition to public employee insurance, the proposal would also allow the state to fund grants for programs that provide abortions. 

Over the past 15 years, Colorado voters have rejected attempts to restrict or limit abortion access numerous times.

Supporters of keeping the abortion funding ban in place argue it’s wrong to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a procedure many are morally and ethically opposed to. 

“Would we ask taxpayers that don't have any religious etiology or foundation to do anything religious with taxpayer money? Why are we asking taxpayers to pay for the killing of a baby?” said Republican Representative Brandi Bradley of Douglas County.

Bradley acknowledges that there’s widespread support for abortion access in the state, but believes the proposed amendment goes further than many of them want. 

“Three-fourths of Colorados believe that, and you have to be okay with that. But if you ask most people that live in Colorado, they don't believe in late-term abortion.”

Having an abortion measure on the ballot could have ripple effects for the overall election. The issue is widely seen as having helped Democratic turnout across the country in the 2022 midterms. In Michigan, an abortion referendum is credited with helping Democrats hold onto the governor’s office. Whether the issue will have as much impact in a state as blue as Colorado though, is still a question. 

“I think that our ballot measure will actually turn out voters and generate some enthusiasm,” said Cobalt’s Middleton. ”Especially because we don't have a lot of statewide races. We have really seen that our ballot measures generate a lot of interest.”