In Colorado, Proposition 115 would ban abortion after 22 weeks with almost no exceptions. In Louisiana, Amendment 1 would ban abortion completely with no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother.
Both ballot initiatives use intentionally vague language to mislead voters, abortion rights activists in each state told HuffPost. Colorado’s measure, for example, suggests there could be exceptions to protect the health of the mother, but in reality this would apply only in the most extreme circumstances such as if a woman were dying during childbirth. The exception does not include health risks that could become exacerbated during pregnancy and later become life-threatening.
Both measures have been contentious in their state but both have a good chance of passing. If they are approved, they would embolden conservative politicians across the country to push more such measures, especially after the wave of extreme abortion restrictions passed in states last year and the Trump administration’s growing fight to “defend the unborn.” And with the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who has an anti-abortion track record, the courts would be less likely to limit these measures.
There are currently over a dozen abortion cases at the federal circuit courts, one step away from heading to the Supreme Court. If Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that protects abortion care, is overturned, it would be extremely difficult to challenge state abortion restrictions in federal court.
“With Amy Coney Barrett sitting on the Supreme Court, a post-Roe world feels like it could soon become a terrifying reality,” said Petrice Sams-Abiodun, vice president of strategic partnerships at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.
“If passed, constitutional amendments like the one on the ballot in Louisiana would make legal challenges to harmful abortion restrictions even more difficult. With unreliable court systems, people could lose access to abortion overnight in states across the country,” Sams-Abiodun continued. “This constitutional amendment is one domino in a chain reaction politicians hostile to abortion rights are hoping to see.”
With Barrett’s confirmation to the highest court in the land and the continuing attack on abortion rights at both the federal and state levels, the protection of safe and legal access to abortion is more difficult than ever before.
The Colorado measure, Proposition 115, bans abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, which is around the five-month mark. It threatens physicians who perform abortions after that point with fines and suspension of medical licenses. The measure has no exceptions for rape or incest and only allows an exception for the mother’s health when “the abortion is immediately required to save the life of the pregnant woman when her life is physically threatened.”
Abortion rights advocates say the language of that one exception is deliberately vague. “It’s intentionally meant to confuse and deceive,” said Stefanie Clarke, communications director for No On 115, a Colorado coalition created to fight the ballot measure.
The exception for the mother’s health applies only “if she is at risk of dying on the table,” Clarke said, and does not cover health conditions that could be exacerbated if the pregnancy continued ― such as preeclampsia, which can be life-threatening if left untreated.
“This abortion ban will hurt people who are already facing impossible situations — not just in Colorado but nationwide.”
Colorado has seen anti-abortion initiatives on the ballot before. Measures declaring the fetus a person were defeated in 2008, 2010 and 2014 by roughly 2-1 margins. Abortion rights advocates say this year’s ballot initiative is much closer to passing because of the misleading language.
Colorado specifically is important because it is one of only seven states (and the District of Columbia) that does not put gestational limits on access to abortion care or, in laypersons’ terms, does allow abortion later in pregnancy.
Abortion later in pregnancy is rare to begin with in the U.S.: Only 1.3% of abortions in 2015 were done at 21 weeks or later, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (over 90% of abortions take place at or before 13 weeks). Most people seeking abortion later in pregnancy do so for extreme health reasons ― say, the mother’s life is at risk or the child will be born with a genetic abnormality that makes life outside the womb nearly impossible.
Christina Taylor, a Coloradan who got an abortion later in pregnancy after learning her fetus had no kidneys or bladder, described her experience in a recent roundtable discussion hosted by the No On 115 campaign.
“If the people behind Prop. 115 would care to ask people who have actually had abortions later in pregnancy what we think, we would tell them we stand firm in our decisions, we feel grateful for the care we received, and we’re sickened that our stories and lives are being twisted,” Taylor said.
Others seek abortion later in pregnancy because they faced roadblocks in their own states (additional testing and waiting periods, as well as financial barriers like the need to take days off work and obtain childcare) that forced them to travel elsewhere to receive care.
“This abortion ban will hurt people who are already facing impossible situations — not just in Colorado but nationwide,” said Kristin Ford, national communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
“Women and pregnant people who would have otherwise traveled to Colorado for abortion care will now have even less access to the essential care they need,” Ford said. Like all abortion restrictions, she said, this measure will cause “disproportionate harm” to people of color, immigrants and those with low incomes or lacking access to affordable health care.
Louisiana’s Amendment 1 is much more extreme than Colorado’s measure because, if Roe were overturned, it would effectively ban abortion from the moment a person knew they were pregnant. There would be no exceptions in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother. The amendment would add language to the Louisiana Constitution stating that nothing in it “shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
The amendment would be devastating for people who needed an abortion but didn’t have the ability, financial or otherwise, to travel outside the state. In practical terms, it would not prevent all Louisiana residents from having abortions. The wealthy would still have access to safe procedures outside the state, while the poor would be driven to undergo unsafe back-alley abortions.
“Amendment 1 is about class. This amendment is not going to end abortion but it is going to punish people who don't have disposable income.”
“I want to be clear: Amendment 1 is about class. This amendment is not going to end abortion but it is going to punish people who don’t have disposable income,” said Katrina Rogers, campaign manager for Louisiana for Personal Freedoms, a reproductive justice group fighting the anti-abortion measure.
“The people who are already under attack and don’t have the money to pay for an abortion are going to be forced to either seek unregulated, unsafe abortions in the state or they’re going to have to endure forced pregnancy,” Rogers added.
In 2018, almost 20% of Louisiana residents lived below the poverty line ― a number that Rogers pointed out is much higher now due to the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis. One-third of the state’s residents are Black, a group that routinely experiences racism in the health care system.
Louisiana does not require sex education to be taught in schools, and when it is taught, educators are required to emphasize abstinence. There are currently only three abortion clinics in the entire state, and 72% of women live in counties without clinics that provide the procedure.
The proposed amendment was created by state Sen. Katrina Jackson, a Black Democrat, and supported by Gov. John Bel Edwards, another Democrat in favor of strict anti-abortion regulations. Louisiana is following in the footsteps of at least 10 other states that have implemented constitutional bans on abortion that would kick in if Roe were overturned.
“These aren’t just numbers. These are people, these are lives, and folks are going to suffer tremendously,” Rogers said. “If Amendment 1 goes on the [state] constitution, people are going to die, people are going to be criminalized, people are going to have to endure forced pregnancies.”
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