This fall, Colorado voters might have the opportunity to use direct democracy protect unborn children. Colorado currently has no gestational limits on abortion and is home to the infamous late-term abortionist Warren Hern. However, Colorado’s “Due Date Too Late” campaign is currently in the process of collecting signatures for a citizen initiative that would ban abortions after 22 weeks’ gestation. More than 137,600 signatures supporting Initiative 120 were delivered to the office of the Colorado secretary of state on March 4. Organizers must gather an additional 10,000 valid signatures by May 29 to qualify for the November ballot.
Interestingly, it was in Colorado that pro-lifers organized one of their first successful direct-democracy campaigns. Colorado had been funding elective abortions through the state Medicaid program since the 1970s, but in 1984, Centennial State voters narrowly approved Initiative 3, which prevents taxpayer funding of elective abortions. My Lozier Institute study on the effect of the federal Hyde Amendment and state limits on Medicaid funding of abortion found that these policies prevent more than 1,500 abortions every year in Colorado. Overall, this policy has saved over 40,000 lives in the state since it took effect in 1985.
During the rest of the 1980s and 1990s, pro-lifers made relatively little use of direct democracy to attain their policy goals. The cost of collecting the necessary signatures and running effective statewide campaigns was often prohibitive. However, in recent years, pro-lifers have enjoyed some success in conservative states using this tactic, for instance, enacting parental-involvement laws in Florida in 2004, Alaska in 2010, and Montana in 2012. In 2018, West Virginia voters approved Amendment 1, which prevents taxpayer funding of elective abortions through the state Medicaid program.
This Colorado campaign has a good chance to succeed. Six Gallup polls taken since 1996 show that a majority of Americans think abortion should be generally illegal during both the second and third trimester. There is also a body of polling data showing that 20-week abortion bans enjoy broad public support. Interestingly, some polls indicate that young adults and women are actually more likely to support 20-week abortion bans than other demographic groups. Colorado has had Democratic governors since 2007, and Democrats have controlled both chambers of the state legislature since 2013, making it difficult to enact pro-life legislation. It is good to see Centennial State pro-lifers creatively using direct democracy to protect the preborn.