The fight over abortion rights could heat up in coming years in Colorado as anti-abortion activists plan a state ballot question to limit late-term abortions amid a recent wave of abortion restrictions in other states.
American Civil Liberties Union reproductive rights lawyer Lizzy Hinkley said she expects the U.S. Supreme Court to make a decision within the next two years that will gut Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that upheld a woman’s right to abortion in 1973 under the U.S. Constitution.
Anti-abortion activists are also working on a ballot question to limit abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy in Colorado that could be presented to voters in 2020, Hinkley said.
Hinkley spoke about abortion rights this week as part of an event featuring the work of the Colorado Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Coalition.
Abortion rights have been in the spotlight nationally this year because Alabama, Georgia and other states have passed stringent abortion rules that appear to be designed to start lawsuits that will reach the conservative-leaning Supreme Court.
Martha Sandner, executive director of LifeGuard, an anti-abortion nonprofit in Durango, said in an interview she is hopeful the Supreme Court will take up the abortion rights issue and overturn Roe v. Wade. But she said it is unlikely to happen in the near future.
“We live in a world where laws don’t change that quickly,” she said.
While the anti-abortion movement is gaining ground nationally, it is not universal, Sandner said. For example, New York passed a law this year that allows abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Rules such as those in New York offset the gains made in other states, Sandner said.
As of this month, laws have taken effect in 30 states demonstrating at least some legal hostility to abortion rights, according to a Guttmacher Institute analysis. The institute supports reproductive rights.
If Roe v. Wade was gutted, eight to 10 states near Colorado could end rights to abortion, leading to greater pressure on Colorado clinics to provide abortion services, Hinkley said.
“It solidifies why we need to fight so hard to keep Colorado a state where folks come for abortion access,” she said.
Access to abortions is particularly limited in Southwest Colorado where a Planned Parenthood clinic in Durango is the only provider for hundreds of miles in the state.
While national protections for abortion could shift, anti-abortion advocates are also working on a state ballot question that may ask voters to make performing a late-term abortion a felony. The question defines late-term abortions as those after 22 weeks. It allows for late-term abortions to be performed only to save the mother’s life. No exception is listed for rape, incest or other circumstances.
The ACLU is fighting to hold up the question, Hinkley said.
LifeGuard could not be politically active in supporting the ballot question because it is a nonprofit, Sandner said. But the group would support the principal of limiting late-term abortions.
“Any abortion is too radical,” she said.
For the ACLU, fighting defensive legal battles, such as the one posed by the 2020 question, hurts the group’s ability to advocate for bills and laws that expand access to reproductive health, Hinkley said.
However, the ACLU did successfully advocate this spring for an update to the state’s comprehensive sex education law, she said.
Schools are not required to teach sex education in Colorado. But if schools do teach it, the curriculum must be comprehensive and include information for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students under the new law.
Schools are also not required to teach students options for handling a pregnancy, Hinkley said. But if schools plan to talk about handling a pregnancy, under the new law, abortion must be presented alongside parenting and adoption in an unbiased way, she said.
The new law also closed loopholes for offering abstinence-only sex education, she said.
“Kids are going to learn about their bodies and how to keep their bodies safe,” she said.