DENVER – As abortion supporters on Monday celebrated a U.S. Supreme Court ruling protecting access, fears swirled that a state ballot effort to implement a single-payer health care system could throw rights into jeopardy in Colorado.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-3, striking down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state. The high court decision essentially prohibits most abortion restrictions across the country.
But Colorado may have a unique problem, according to abortion supporters.
Amendment 69 asks voters this November to eliminate private insurance for a 10 percent “premium tax” so that the state can cover health expenses. Under the initiative, employers would share employees’ costs by paying 6.67 percent of the 10 percent income tax, leaving employees with a 3.33 percent responsibility. After seeking a waiver under the Affordable Care Act, federal dollars also would be made available.
Abortion supporters worry that if voters back the initiative, they would unintentionally outlaw abortion in many instances, thanks to a 1984 voter-approved state constitutional amendment that prohibits public funding of abortions in Colorado.
“Amendment 69 would expand access to common healthcare services, but it would be at the expense of access to abortion care,” wrote the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado.
“While we strongly support the goal of improved healthcare for all Coloradans, and many of our members individually support the idea of universal health care, Amendment 69, in not providing guarantees to abortion access, means it is not truly universal.”
ColoradoCare – the campaign behind Amendment 69 – says its lawyers are confident that the ballot drive would not impact abortions in the state.
The ColoradoCare board would have unlimited power to authorize payments for unspecified health care services, such as abortions.
“Nowhere does the amendment state that the board can provide payment for all health care services except elective abortions,” ColoradoCare lawyers opined.
The opinion goes on to state that if there is a conflict between two state laws, then the most recent law would take precedent, thereby authorizing abortion funding under Amendment 69 and effectively repealing the 1984 law.
“Colorado, in 2016, is very different from the Colorado that passed the law back in 1984, and really has evolved as a state,” said state Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, a physician and lead proponent of Amendment 69, who is also an ardent supporter of abortion rights.
“We were probably still a red state back then. Our populace is in a different place.”
The opposition to the ballot drive in this case represents a progressive voter bloc that ordinarily supports concepts such as universal health care, which has raised some eyebrows.
But Aguilar is hopeful that the issue won’t be driven by politics.
“In Colorado, where our rural geographic areas have been particularly hard hit by the inequities of the access to health insurance, I would hope that people would remember that illness ... is not partisan,” Aguilar said.
Abortion-rights supporters say their concerns have less to do with politics than with unintended consequences, suggesting that ColoradoCare would prohibit providing abortion services to women not eligible for Medicaid, except when a mother’s life is in danger.
“While the Supreme Court has held that it’s unconstitutional for a state to place an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s access to abortion services, there is no federal constitutional requirement that a state actually fund those services,” the NARAL board wrote. “State restrictions on use of state public funds to provide abortion services have uniformly been upheld ... and Amendment 69 does nothing to change that.”