Proposed ballot question on abortion a concern for Colorado

Meredith Carroll
Muck Off
Meredith Carroll
Courtesy photo

Nobody wants an abortion. Really, nobody. Whether a pregnancy is planned or unplanned, terminating it is a physical s— show and emotional atomic bomb.

That’s why on the surface it seems peculiar there’s a group trying to get a question on Colorado’s 2020 ballot that would outlaw abortion at 22 weeks gestation. Currently, Colorado remains one of just seven states with no restrictions on abortion; should the proposed question ultimately succeed, it’ll join 17 other states in enacting a 22-week ban.

Fortunately, though, as far as abortion restrictions go, placing a barrier at the 22-week mark is fairly benign. That’s typically because waking up five months into a pregnancy and deciding to abort a totally healthy fetus for absolutely no good reason isn’t a thing.

“Elective termination beyond 15 or 20 weeks is already unusual,” said Dr. Mindy Nagle, an obstetrician-gynecologist at All Valley Women’s Care in Aspen and Basalt. “Criminalizing abortion at 22 weeks won’t do much to curb or change anything.”

The ballot question makes allowances for the physical health of the mother, although not for a woman who discovers later during pregnancy that her fetus suffers from a catastrophic chromosomal or genetic abnormality. One of Colorado’s few later-stage abortion providers told the Associated Press how legal restrictions would serve to further distress the several hundred women each year who seek him out upon discovering their fetus is unviable.

“I’m the collateral damage. The target is the freedom and health and welfare of women,” Dr. Warren Hern, of the Boulder Abortion Clinic, said last week.

Also caught in the crosshairs of this potential measure is the mental health of pregnant women, for which no exception is being proposed. That’s a remarkably punitive move here considering the Colorado Sun just reported the death rate among pregnant women and new moms in Colorado nearly doubled in a six-year period from 2008 to 2013 as a result of suicide and overdose. At a time when mental health is arguably having a moment, to purposefully turn a blind eye to the plight of a known vulnerable segment of the population hardly seems pro-life.

If one thing is clear, though, it’s that the potential ballot question is less about bringing all fetuses to full gestation and more about sounding a dog whistle to alert anti-choice crusaders to get out to the polls in a state that will be very much in play nationally during the next election cycle. The strategy would likely succeed in getting out the vote, although probably not in the way its architects designed.

“The whole thing is a political miscalculation,” said Matt Moseley, partner and chief strategy officer at the Denver-based Dovetail Solutions communications and strategy firm. “Colorado isn’t Mississippi or Alabama. Voters here have a more independent and libertarian mindset: ‘Do not tell me what to do with my body or land.’”

Adding to the risk for the right is that Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is up for re-election — and his seat looks vulnerable.

“While the goal may be getting social conservatives out to vote, the pro-choice faction is also going to be highly energized,” Moseley said. “Gardner will be forced to address the issue and he risks alienating moderate Republican women, independents and young voters. It’ll be timely and costly to get on the ballot and the backlash from Democrats will be strong.”

Fortunately Colorado is not at an advanced risk of having restrictions placed on a woman’s right to choose. Not only does the Pew Research Center show 60% of all U.S. adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, but Coloradoans also have a history of defeating encroachments on reproductive freedoms at the ballot box. Even still, the improbability of such a measure passing doesn’t mean complacency is appropriate.

“It’s an attempt at control,” Nagle said. “It’s really doing nothing but putting words out there and trying to get a foot in the door to enact restrictions.”

In the meantime, women continue walking into hospitals or clinics pregnant and then exiting un-pregnant and baby-less. Their stories aren’t newsworthy because they’re deeply personal, greatly distressing and far too commonplace. The number of reasons why women need abortions is infinite, and the number of excuses that need to be made each and every time one is electively undergone is exactly zero.

Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at


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