Colorado abortion amendment campaign kicks off on anniversary of Roe v. Wade decision

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Abortion rights supporters gathered on the state Capitol steps in Denver on Tuesday after a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court called for overturning Roe vs. Wade.

On the 51st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, backers of a ballot initiative to put the right to abortion into the Colorado constitution formally launched their campaign on the west steps of the state capitol.

The effort has less than six months to collect more than 124,000 valid signatures from across the state to get on the ballot in November. As a constitutional amendment, it will need 55 percent of the vote to pass. 

In large part, the amendment mirrors language Governor Jared Polis already signed into law. Putting the ideas in the state constitution will make it impossible for a future legislature to pass new abortion restrictions.

The proposal also asks voters to get rid of Colorado’s ban on taxpayer funding for abortions and allow public employees to get coverage for the procedure through health insurance. 

“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,” said Nicole Hensel, the executive director of New Era Colorado, a nonprofit that seeks to turn out the youth vote. 

She said this initiative would be a motivator to get people to the polls because many younger voters are less likely to be affiliated with either 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 said.

For Marita Brokenleg, who came to the kick-off and describes herself as a staunch Democrat, abortion access should be a right.

“Why should men be making these decisions? I'm old enough to where I remember before abortion was legal. There were people in those days that died trying to get an abortion,” said Brokenleg.

She said she plans to volunteer for the campaign.

On Friday, Jan. 19, Democratic state lawmakers passed a resolution to designate January 22 as Roe v. Wade Anniversary Day. Republican lawmakers criticized the move as a political stunt. 

“Let's go to work for the people of Colorado and stop playing political games,” said Republican Rep. Brandi Bradley. “And on a personal note, Roe and the cases that stem from it represent a national disgrace, not a point of pride.” 

Bradley and other opponents of the initiative said it’s critical to keep the state’s abortion funding ban, in particular, in place. They argue it’s wrong to force taxpayers to pay for a procedure that many are morally and ethically opposed to. 

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, 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. Over the past 15 years, Colorado voters have rejected attempts to restrict or limit abortion access numerous times.