DENVER — A proposal to ban abortions at 22 weeks in Colorado moved closer to being on next year’s ballot on Wednesday.
The state’s title board, made up of representatives of the Secretary of State’s Office, the state Attorney General’s Office and the Legislature’s legal office, agreed the measure dealt with only one issue as required by state law and approved preliminary wording for the ballot. However, anyone who disagrees with the decision can appeal to the board within the next week and possibly to the state Supreme Court after that.
Proponents won’t be cleared to collect signatures until those legal options are exhausted.
The proposal on what proponents call late-term abortions would make it illegal for anyone to perform an abortion when a fetus is at 22 weeks of gestation or after. It would allow abortions after that time if a pregnant woman’s physical health is endangered but there would be no exception to protect her psychological health.
Colorado is one of seven states without any time limits on when women can get an abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 17 states have laws banning abortion at 22 weeks.
The lawyer for the proponents, Suzanne Staiert, said she thinks that voters will agree that a fetus at 22 weeks is a person. She pointed out that the measure would prevent many abortions from being performed at a Boulder clinic that specializes in late second- and third-trimester abortions.
“This is not a theoretical argument for us. This a very home-based issue,” she said, referring the Boulder Abortion Clinic run by Dr. Warren Hern.
Hern said he sees women from Colorado, other states and as far away as Australia seeking abortions late in their pregnancy often because they have only recently discovered catastrophic fetal abnormalities. He said many are referred to him by other doctors and hospitals because of his over 40 years of experience in late abortions. He estimated the proposal would prevent him from performing abortions on several hundred women a year.
“I’m the collateral damage. The target is the freedom and health and welfare of women,” he said.
Proponents would need to collect at least 124,632 valid signatures from registered voters — at least 5% of the total votes cast in the Secretary of State’s race in the last election — to get on the 2020 ballot.
In its Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that states could prohibit abortion after a fetus is considered viable. At the time of the ruling, the court said a fetus was typically considered viable at 24 to 28 weeks. Studies since then have found that some babies born as soon as 22 weeks have survived.
Colorado was the first state to loosen restrictions on abortion in 1967, six years before the U.S. Supreme Court would legalize it nationally in the Roe decision.
Previous attempts to pass outright bans on all abortion have been overwhelmingly rejected in the state.
Constitutional amendments to give embryos the rights of born humans were rejected by voters in 2008 and 2010. In 2012, backers of the personhood amendment failed to make the ballot after falling 3,900 signatures short of the amount needed at the time — 86,000.
In 2014, voters decisively rejected a different proposal that would have added unborn human beings to the state’s criminal code, allowing prosecutors to charge anyone who kills a fetus with a crime.