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Abortion restrictions are on the ballot in Colorado and Louisiana

Coloradans are considering a ban on abortions after 22 weeks; Louisiana residents will decide whether the state constitution allows a right to abortions.
Anti-abortion-rights activists wait outside the Supreme Court for a decision in the Louisiana case Russo v. June Medical Services LLC in Washington on June 25.
Anti-abortion-rights activists wait outside the Supreme Court for a decision in the Louisiana case Russo v. June Medical Services LLC in Washington on June 25.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

Voters in Colorado and Louisiana will weigh in on state ballot measures Tuesday that have the potential to chip away at abortion access.

Coloradans are considering Proposition 115, which would ban abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy, while Louisiana residents will decide whether the state constitution allows a right to abortions.

The political debate over abortion rights has intensified with the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The new conservative majority has raised concerns among many people that the court could weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal in the United States. However, without touching the landmark decision, states can still try to pass laws regulating and restricting abortion.

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While anti-abortion-rights activists have largely failed to limit access in Colorado, they hope to win over voters with a measure that would ban abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy unless a person's life is in immediate danger. But there would be no exceptions for rape or incest. At the moment, Colorado is one of seven states without gestational limits on abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research organization.

Giuliana Day, a co-sponsor of Proposition 115, said the lack of restrictions on abortions prompted her to spend more than a year and a half advocating for change.

"It's one of the darkest secrets in the state, and the majority of people had no idea that this was happening," said Day, who characterized the measure as reasonable and said she is optimistic that it will pass.

If Proposition 115 is approved, providers who continue to perform abortion procedures after 22 weeks could face Class 1 misdemeanor charges and fines. The providers could also lose their licenses for at least three years, but they would not face jail time.

Opponents of the measure said abortions later in pregnancies are broadly misrepresented. An abortion at that point in a pregnancy is uncommon, and advocates argue that the decision should be made between patients and their doctors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1.2 percent of abortions are performed after 21 weeks of gestation.

Abortion later in a pregnancy typically takes place when the pregnant person's life is at risk or because of a lethal fetal diagnosis or financial and logistical barriers, said Dr. Rebecca Cohen, an OB-GYN who practices in metropolitan Denver.

"Every pregnancy is unique, and it can change from moment to moment. I have seen healthy people turn a corner in a very dangerous, very fast way," Cohen said. "Abortion later in pregnancy is rare, but it comes up for circumstances in which abortion care is the best and safest option."

Cohen lambasted language in the measure that would require a person's life to be at immediate risk to receive abortion care after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

"From a safety perspective, it is incredibly wrong to have to sit and wait until we feel that someone's life is in danger," Cohen said.

Over time, other states have adopted abortion restrictions, but Colorado has remained a strong outlier, said Karen Middleton, president of the abortion-rights group Cobalt. Middleton warned that the ban would affect residents and others from across the country who depend on Colorado for care, especially later in pregnancy.

"This ballot measure is trying to shut down abortion care in a state that is considered a safe haven, or a place of last resort for many people," Middleton said, adding that "any limitation right now — when we don't know what the courts might do — feels like an additional burden on anyone who might need access to this care."

In Louisiana, residents will vote on Amendment 1, which states that nothing in the state's constitution protects the right to an abortion or the funding of an abortion.

"We are protecting our state's taxpayer dollars and reaffirming Louisiana's pro-life stance. We also believe that our people should have a say in this," said Democratic state Sen. Katrina Jackson, who sponsored the measure.

Angie Thomas, associate director of Louisiana Right to Life, said the group supports the initiative.

"We've been working hard to get the word out about what this amendment does and what it doesn't do," Thomas said. "This amendment will make sure that Louisiana's current pro-life laws are protected and can't be undermined by a couple of judges."

Abortion-rights groups, however, argue that if it passes, the amendment would further inhibit access in Louisiana if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

"We have several cases heading towards the Supreme Court, and any one of them could be a case that undermines abortion rights or overturns abortion protections," said Elizabeth Nash, interim associate director of state issues at the Guttmacher Institute.

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Louisiana has a trigger law that would automatically ban all abortions if Roe v. Wade were to fall. As a result, Amendment 1 would then make it difficult to strike down restrictions on abortion, like the trigger law, under the state constitution.

Michelle Erenberg, executive director of the abortion-rights group Lift Louisiana, said the amendment is part of a long strategy to strip the right to an abortion.

"This is a critical moment for an amendment like this to be on the ballot," Erenberg said. "If we do see Roe v. Wade overturned, it would be used to bolster and solidify the Legislature's efforts to outright ban abortion in the state."

Erenberg added, "Our biggest concern about abortion bans is how many people are just not going to have access to time-sensitive care."