DENVER | Despite past failed attempts to ban or limit abortions in Colorado, anti-abortion advocates have another chance to win over voters with a November ballot measure that would ban the procedure after 22 weeks.
The measure would make abortions illegal during the third trimester of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape, incest or a fatal diagnosis in which the fetus can’t survive outside the womb. It would allow abortions after that time only if a woman’s life is endangered.
Doctors who perform or attempt to perform an abortion after 22 weeks could face a fine of up to a $5,000 and forfeit their medical license for at least three years.
Colorado was the first state to decriminalize abortion in 1967 — six years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it in the Roe v. Wade decision. Initiatives to limit or ban abortion in 2008, 2010 and 2014 were voted down by Coloradans.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights organization, 17 U.S. states have laws banning abortion at 22 weeks.
Supporters of Colorado’s Proposition 115, including the group behind the initiative, Due Date Too Late, argue that 22 weeks is a “balanced” and “reasonable” approach to the abortion debate.
“I think it’s the human rights issue of our lifetime,” said Giuliana Day, an organizer of the grassroots campaign behind the initiative. It’s been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, chair of the state GOP, Vice Chair Kristi Burton Brown and others.
Tom Perille, president of the group Democrats for Life of Colorado, is a retired physician who is a medical adviser for the campaign. Perille said that at 22 weeks, babies can survive independently from the mother and can possess sophisticated behaviors such as smiling, acquiring taste for food or showing a preference for music.
“Virtually anybody with a high school science background can understand that after 22 weeks, this is really a human being that deserves protection,” Perille said.
A “Vote No on 115” campaign is backed by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. Campaign spokesperson Stephanie Clarke said opponents are taking nothing for granted.
“This is a sneaky backdoor ban,” Clarke said. “It’s being pushed by the same politicians and groups who’ve tried repeatedly and failed to ban abortion in Colorado, so they’re trying a different tactic.”
In 2008, voters rejected Amendment 48, which aimed to redefine “person” in the state constitution to “include any human being from the moment of fertilization.” The measure was proposed by Burton Brown.
Priya Walia, a reproductive rights and health lawyer for the National Women’s Law Center, argued that similar state initiatives to restrict abortion are “part of a coordinated effort to end abortion at any cost.”
Dr. Warren Hern, who runs a clinic in Boulder and carries out later-term abortions, said abortion legislation complicates the doctor-patient relationship.
“There are many conditions that require termination of the pregnancy for the woman to survive and those are medical decisions that have to be made in the doctor’s office, in the operating room with the woman’s participation and consent. And I think any interference with that is not justified and not acceptable,” Hern said.
A group of Colorado-based religious leaders voiced their opposition to the November measure in a letter this month issued by the nonprofit Interfaith Alliance. “As faith leaders rooted in our vision of a better and more just world, we cannot remain silent when politicians and groups attempt to infringe upon the inherent rights of others,” the group wrote.
Currently, 43 out of the 50 U.S. states ban abortion at some point in a pregnancy. Other states without statutory limits are Alaska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.