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Cobalt Advocates

Cobalt Statement on Attorneys General from Abortion Ban States Demanding Private Medical Records from Abortion Patients Who Have Gone to Other States for Care

The Colorado Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice Coalition is pushing to end the state’s prohibition on public funds for abortion care and codify abortion protections through a ballot measure for the 2024 election.

Initiative 89 officially passed the state Title Board on October 18; its language adds a specific right to abortion to Article II of the State Constitution and eliminates the amendment that prohibits the use of public funds for abortion.

The coalition — which comprises the ACLU of Colorado, the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, the Colorado Organization of Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), New Era Colorado, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and ProgessNow Colorado, in addition to Cobalt — will soon start canvassing to collect signatures to make sure the measure makes the ballot.

The campaign is personal for Cobalt, as the Cobalt Abortion Fund was originally started by the First Universalist Church of Denver in 1984 in response to Colorado voters passing a constitutional amendment that banned using public funds for abortion by just under 10,000 votes.

Because of that amendment, no public employee (those who work for the state, a county, or a city in any capacity) can have abortion services covered through their employer’s health plan. Additionally, people insured through Medicaid are not able to access abortion care.

In a 2021 study, in states like Colorado that prohibit Medicaid coverage of abortion, 78 percent of patients reported that financial barriers prevented them from getting care. Medicaid covers 36 percent of births in the Centennial State, and 19 percent of the population received support from Medicaid — including 15 percent of women between the ages of fifteen and 49, according to state data.

The amendment affects roughly 250,000 public employees.

The reproductive health coalition is confident that with collaboration from its members, it can achieve the 55 percent vote threshold required to amend the state constitution. “The coalition is made up of some heavy hitters,” says Aurea Bolaños Perea, strategic communications manager for COLOR. “As individuals, we can’t make as much changes as we can as a collective.”

The group purposefully chose to take its time developing the initiative, which Middleton says it began discussing in 2021. The members chose 2024 in part because organizations like theirs tend to have more monetary resources in presidential election years, when more donors pay attention to what’s on the ballot and voters are more engaged.

Plus, they wanted to be sure they had the time to educate people about the problem.

Those who haven’t been a public employee or been on Medicaid may not even be aware of the ban on abortion coverage. “This is really our moment to affirmatively fix something that’s wrong in our state constitution and make it fair access for everybody who lives in Colorado,” Middleton says. “It’s a matter of access, and it shouldn’t matter where you work in order to get care.”

New Era Colorado, the largest youth organizing group in the state, is certain that young people — those eighteen to 34 — will support the initiative. With the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision in 2022, abortion was suddenly unprotected nationally, and states like Colorado became safe havens for people as abortion rights were winnowed down across the country. At the same time, during the 2022 election cycle, young people turned out in places where abortion was on the ballot to vote for enshrining protections.

“When you’re looking at protecting the right to an abortion, young people are the strongest and most motivated base,” says Nicole Hensel, executive director of New Era Colorado. “Our generation really has always lived with abortion being legal, and so when it was overturned, I think that was a moment where our whole schema of the world changed.”

COLOR says it is focused on getting Latinos to vote for the measure, as they are more likely to be impacted by disparities in care.

“Just because some things are legal in our state doesn’t mean that they’re accessible for the people that need it,” says Aurea Bolaños Perea, communications director for COLOR. “Removing this funding ban is going to be one of the things that lessens the second guesses for our communities where they’re like, ‘I don’t know if I deserve this access to care.’ Yes, you do.”

In Colorado, COLOR fought to pass a 2021 state law that gave undocumented people access to birth control. Along with other coalition members, it also worked to pass the Reproductive Health Equity Act in 2022 and Protections for Accessing Reproductive Health Care in 2023.

According to members, those laws — in addition to the coalition’s 2020 defeat of a ballot measure that would have instated a 22-week abortion ban in the state — show that Colorado voters support abortion.

The group scored another win when the Colorado Medical Board ruled on August 17 that the abortion reversal pill is not a generally accepted standard of medical practice. The board’s original draft of rules, required by a 2023 state law regulating deceptive trade practices in pregnancy-related services, didn’t take a stance on the pill, which has been denounced by the American Medical Association.

New Era and COLOR mobilized, gathering supporters to convince the Colorado Medical Board it needed to denounce the abortion reversal pill — and it did.

“We’re going to be the first state in the nation to ensure that our communities won’t be deceived into this unethical experimental practice,” Hensel says.

The Colorado Catholic Conference, which wanted the board to uphold its original draft, isn’t thrilled about the Colorado Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice Coalition. “The pro-abortion lobby (New Era, Planned Parenthood, COBALT, COLOR) refuse to allow medical providers to obtain proper informed consent of women who choose to save the life of their pre-born child after taking mifepristone and offer a standardized regimen of high-dose progesterone, and rejected the previous draft rule,” it said in a statement sent to Westword. The group also called the Colorado Medical Board’s decision unfortunate.

Still, the coalition isn’t worried about the naysayers.

In 2024, it wants to affirm abortion rights on the ballot instead of just defeating efforts to attack them.

“The Dobbs decision really put Colorado on the map as a safe haven state, and it also put this imperative for us as a coalition to really go on the offensive when it comes to abortion,” Hensel says. “It’s not enough to just solidify the right. In our opinion, legality is really the floor. What we really need to be doing is breaking down barriers to access.”

State law requires at least 2 percent of the 124,238 signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot to come from each of the state’s 35 Senate districts. Middleton says that won’t be a problem.

“If our state does a better job of paying for the health care that we should legally get here, we’re doing even better at a time when some states are driving patients across their borders into other states,” Middleton says. “There’s a lot of scary and sad stories of people who are dealing with these circumstances and feeling like they’re out of options.”

In 2024, Colorado could have the chance to decrease those stories with this ballot initiative.