Since 1967, when Colorado became the first state to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, or in which pregnancy would lead to permanent physical disability of the parent, Colorado has been a national leader in protecting access to abortion. However, Colorado’s leadership on the issue has also turned it into a battleground state for abortion, with a history of failed “personhood” abortion-ban measures and most recently, following the passage of the state’s sweeping Reproductive Health Equity Act, a failed attempt from out of state anti-abortion activists to ban abortion at a municipal level. Abortion has become a central issue for both Democrats and Republicans and has shaped elections for decades.
In 2008 Colorado saw the nation’s first attempt at a “fetal personhood” ballot initiative with Amendment 48. Kristi Burton Brown, the outgoing Colorado Republican Party Chair, was the sponsor behind that measure, and has built her political career on her anti-abortion stance. Amendment 48, and a 2010 attempt, Amendment 62, were both rejected by voters with over 70% of voters opposed, and did not receive a majority vote in any county in Colorado. Amendment 67, in 2014, was rejected by nearly 65% of voters, and 2020’s Proposition 115, which would have banned abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy, was defeated with 59% of the vote, after opponents spent $9.5 million to campaign against the measure. In 2022, an attempt to classify abortion as “murder” failed to gather enough signatures to even make it on the ballot.
During a December, 2022, Colorado GOP meeting, Burton Brown reaffirmed her support for the party’s anti-abortion stance, despite concerns that it is impacting Republicans’ electoral viability. “I met with a donor, one of my favorite donors, he is really great and super helpful to me and the party all year long, but I met him today and his suggestion was that what the state Republican Party and the national Republican Party needs to do is drop the pro-life issue from our platform in order to win,” she said. “I was very clear with him, that will never happen with the Republican party. It’s one of the key issues, one of the reasons many of us are Republicans. And I just want to assure you that there’s a lot of analysis and questions and ideas … but I think we should be able to stand firm in rejecting ideas that would make us basically Democrats.”
In October, 2022 polling from the Global Strategy Group’s The Rocky Mountaineer showed that abortion was a key issue motivating voters during the 2022 elections, which saw Democrats sweep statewide races, including the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and businessman Joe O’Dea, who tried unsuccessfully to stake out a slightly less extreme position on the issue. O’Dea’s attempts at walking a fine line on abortion, voicing support for both Roe v. Wade and a 20-week ban on abortions, drew criticism from both conservatives and progressives.
According to the Mountaineer poll, “Nearly two-thirds of voters believe that if the GOP takes power in Colorado, they will try to ban abortion here; and big margins also believe that if they take power in DC, they’d try to ban abortion nationwide and that electing O’Dea would make it more likely that the Senate would vote to ban abortion.”
According to polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation, “About four in ten (38%) voters overall said that the Supreme Court decision ending the constitutional right to an abortion had a major impact on their decision about whether to vote in this year’s election. The share citing the decision as a major motivator was highest among Black women under age 50 (61%), Hispanic women under age 50 (58%), those who voted for Democratic Congressional candidates (56%), first-time voters (54%), voters under age 30 (53%), and those who said they were angry about the Supreme Court’s abortion decision (55%).”
In addition to the string of failed personhood amendments, Colorado Republicans have consistently introduced doomed legislation to restrict abortion access in Colorado. Last February, Democrats rejected three anti-abortion measures: Rep. Stephanie Luck’s (R-Penrose) bill to collect and report data on abortion in Colorado, Rep. Patrick Neville’s (R-Castle Rock) abortion ban, and Rep. Dave Williams’ (R-Colorado Springs) personhood bill, which would have allowed for the impeachment of any Colorado judge who refused to charge women or doctors with homicide for providing abortion-related medical care.
Despite their lack of success with ballot initiatives and in the legislature, anti-abortion activists have turned their attention to local governments. Last year Republican County Commissioners in Park and Weld counties unsuccessfully attempted to pass resolutions to name their counties “sanctuary counties for the unborn.” Most recently, Forging Pueblo, a group whose board of directors includes Luck, worked with Mark Lee Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas and founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative, in an attempt to pass a municipal ordinance in Pueblo to attempt to stop an abortion clinic from opening. Dickson’s efforts have been successful across Texas and in Nebraska and New Mexico, but failed in Colorado.
While Colorado has enshrined the right to an abortion in state law with RHEA, advocates are pushing continued efforts to protect providers and patients from out-of-state extradition, and are working on a 2024 ballot initiative to protect abortion under Colorado’s constitution.