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Advocates launch effort to add abortion protections to Colorado constitution

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Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt, addresses a crowd in Greeley. Abortion rights advocates recently kicked off a statewide campaign to enshrine abortion access in the state's constitution.
Photo: Alison Berg, Rocky Mountain PBS

GREELEY, Colo. —  Colorado voters could choose in the 2024 election whether to enshrine abortion access in the state’s constitution.

After the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade in 2022 — effectively leaving the decision of abortion rights to states — Colorado enacted a statutory protection guaranteeing a right to choose. In 2023, the Colorado Legislature expanded access.

Colorado is also considered a “liberal” state, but abortion advocates said its reputation for electing pro-choice leaders is relatively new and could change any election, which is why they believe constitutional protections for reproductive rights are vital.

“If the winds change and control of the legislature or governor’s office switches, we could lose this right, especially without protections from the Supreme Court,” said Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt, a statewide nonprofit advocating for abortion rights.

“We think this is a very critical year,” Middleton said.

Abortion rights advocates kicked off a statewide campaign to gather 124,238 signatures to get the proposed amendment on the ballot.

Organizers hope to get at least 2% of the signatures from each of Colorado’s 35 Senate districts with rallies in Denver, Boulder, Pueblo, Grand Junction, Montrose and Greeley. Each area, Middleton said, represents different needs and demographics, but with an interest protecting abortion in the Centennial State.

“We’ve got people everywhere who are aware that if we aren’t actively protecting this right, we could lose it,” Middleton said.

As the country gears up for a contentious 2024 federal election in which many Republican candidates have vowed to enact a federal abortion ban, Middleton said Colorado’s protective status could be legally ambiguous.

Between 2022 and 2023, voters in Kansas, Ohio, Kentucky, Vermont, Michigan and California approved abortion-related amendments to their constitutions. Ohio’s initiative was citizen-initiated.

Stacy Suniga, president of the Latino Coalition of Weld County, said involving Latinos in campaigns for abortion is vital, because low-income people of color face more disparities in obtaining abortions.

“I think there are some hurdles that are really preventing people who need abortion and maybe can't afford it,” Suniga said. “I think we just need to go further to increase access.”

A constitutional amendment would also guarantee insurance coverage for those employed by the state government, which Middleton — who was formerly a state representative — said is currently a barrier for the state’s thousands of employees. 

Suniga said most hurdles to abortion affect people in poverty, people of color and people in rural areas. She hopes a constitutional amendment solves some of those problems.

“That barrier disproportionately affects those who are lower socioeconomic status, and who would be most impacted financially if a child was born that they couldn’t afford to take care of,” Suniga said. 

Part of Suniga’s work is also convincing more Latinos to support pro-abortion laws, even if their personal feelings differ. A 2022 Pew Research Center poll showed 57% of Hispanic people thought abortion should be legal in most cases. Latin American countries like Mexico and Colombia recently loosened restrictions on the procedure.

[Related: Mexico becomes latest country in Latin America to loosen restrictions on abortion]

But Suniga said the issue is deeply personal and varies greatly across her community.

Weld County, where Cobalt kicked off its campaign, is about 31% Latino, according to a 2023 population estimate. The county historically trended conservative, but elected a Democrat in 2022, and has seen voting patterns shifts as it has grown.

Meanwhile, polls continue to show abortion access remains more popular than abortion bans. Middleton said she thinks it’s unlikely that a federal abortion bill could pass both branches of Congress.

“I think we’ve seen enough bipartisan support across the states that I don’t believe they’d be able to pass a national ban, even if we had the worst-case presidency,” Middleton said.

Once the ballot initiative reaches 124,238 signatures it will be included in the statewide ballot in November and Colorado voters will decide whether to amend the constitution to protect abortion rights. 

Alison Berg is a reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS.

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