• June 22nd, 2024
  • Saturday, 11:34:13 PM

Abortion Victories Risk Complacency in Blue States Like Colorado 


Foto: COLOR Dusti Gurule

 

Dusti Gurule

Posted May 30, 2024

 

Before the US Supreme Court struck down Roe two years ago, states that support abortion rights had enacted new protections – and that trend has intensified. But these hard-won legislative successes have also created complacency, just when every state should be enshrining abortion rights in their constitutions.

 

Colorado is a perfect case in point.

 

Most Coloradans don’t realize that Governor Jared Polis’s high marks on his abortion rights record are a result of ongoing and substantial pressure to get him to do the right thing. After my organization and a coalition of partner organizations pressed, he signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA) into law, containing crucial abortion protections in anticipation of the Dobbs decision two years ago.

 

But despite our General Assembly creating the statutory protections within RHEA, Colorado’s constitution (like the vast majority of states in America) still does not protect abortion rights. It contains a regressive 1980s-era provision that bars the state from paying for reproductive healthcare for its 117,000 employees and others who access state-run healthcare plans.

 

The opportunity here is not only defensive; places like Colorado must go beyond what Roe held.

 

This is a prime example of racial inequity being baked into a state Constitution. According to UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Institute, one-third of Latinos – and more than half (55%) of Latino children in Colorado – are covered by Medicaid. Both Latinos and children are more likely to be covered by Medicaid than the state population overall (19% for all Coloradans and 35% for all children).

 

Governor Polis, who has often been reluctant to champion abortion rights, must do the right thing for all Coloradans – and especially Latinos – by voicing his firm and unequivocal support for a constitutional amendment that will appear on the November 2024 ballot.

 

On April 18th, a broad-based coalition of Coloradans led by COLOR and Cobalt Advocates, along with dozens of labor unions, religious leaders, healthcare providers, and civil rights groups, secured enough signatures to put a question on the November ballot to enshrine protections for abortion access in the state’s constitution.

 

We need Governor Polis to follow the lead of Reproductive Justice Champions like Attorney General Phil Weiser, who has endorsed our ballot measure and partners with RJ advocates to protect Colorado from federal overreach. We need Governor Polis to rally his fellow Governors to make reproductive healthcare access and the protection of abortion a top priority in their states. Currently, only a handful of states have protected abortion in their constitutions. While many others may have similar ballot efforts this fall, other states must amend their constitutions through state legislatures; or at least pass laws before amendments can appear before voters on a ballot.

 

The opportunity here is not only defensive; places like Colorado must go beyond what Roe held. As Law Professor Quinn Yeargain noted shortly after the Dobbs decision, “The rights and liberties protected by the federal Constitution only set a floor, not a ceiling… States cannot provide less protection than the federal constitution, but they can provide more.”
Despite this opportunity, reproductive freedom in so-called blue states remains remarkably fragile. This is often due to a lack of imagination by progressives – in and out of office – who believe our rights have been secured, or they have a vague hope that there must be some line that anti-abortion extremists won’t cross.

 

Groups like COLOR know better. We work with and on behalf of Latinos for health equity and justice. We see the harmful impacts when hourly wage workers and those reliant on public health care plans are denied care – or forgo it due to financial insecurity, fear of stigma, and other barriers.

Some might argue that a blue state like Colorado or even New York (which also lacks constitutional protections for abortion) will never have to worry about anti-abortion forces gaining political control and passing new restrictions. But we know that isn’t true.

Anti-abortion zealots have a 50/50 chance of controlling the White House and possibly both chambers of Congress next year. Despite former President Trump being the person most singularly responsible for the end of Roe and the ensuing health risks confronting millions of people, he and other conservative politicians have attempted to appear more moderate on abortion lately. But the anti-abortion advocates that fuel their success are very open about their intentions: they won’t stop until they end access to reproductive freedom for everyone – in every state.

 

In fact, these anti-abortion groups have published detailed plans. In one of them, a returned President Trump could simply order his Justice Department on Day One to invoke an antiquated law, the Comstock Act, to bar medication abortion from being sold or mailed across state lines. That means, by January of next year, Coloradans could wake up having lost access to one of the safest and most widely used forms of reproductive health care.

 

Viewed through this reality, signing on to support a ballot measure protecting abortion rights is the least that Governor Polis and other blue state leaders like him could do. The better question is, what is your actual plan to protect abortion in your state’s constitution as quickly as possible?

 

We cannot take progressivism for granted. We have a solid game plan in Colorado to demonstrate to the rest of the country what is possible for bodily autonomy under a functional blue trifecta. We need our Governor—and his peers—to join in before it’s too late.

 

 

Dusti Gurule is the President and CEO of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) and COLOR Action Fund.