Two Women Are Trying to Put a 22-Week Abortion Ban on Colorado’s 2020 Ballot

As of today, September 19, two women who are seeking to ban “late-term abortions” (late in the second trimester of pregnancy, that is) will be able to start collecting signatures to try to get the ban on the 2020 ballot. The initiative would prohibit an abortion after 22 weeks of gestational age, which is measured from the date of the last menstrual period. It would charge medical professionals who performed abortions with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Erin Behrens and Guiliana Day, both from Wheat Ridge, are behind the push for the ballot measure. Their filing doesn’t list them as a part of any of the numerous Colorado anti-abortion organizations, but they already have a website for their campaign, which they are calling “Due Date Too Late.” The website calls the ban a “common sense limit that will draw a line at 5 months into pregnancy.”

After the first draft of the initiative was rejected in July, Behrens and Day submitted six more drafts with variations on the proposal, some of which would have made it a Class 3 felony to perform an abortion after 22 weeks.

The one that eventually passed, Measure #120, includes an exception if the abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman, but not an exception for rape or incest.

To get their measure on the ballot, they must gather 124,632 signatures by March 4, 2020.

Though Roe v. Wade recognizes a constitutional right to an abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed more limits on abortion at increasingly earlier stages of pregnancy, and the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh only increases the likelihood that abortion bans will be successful. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than a third of states now have 22-week bans.

Nationwide, only about 1.3 percent of abortions are performed at 21 weeks or later, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Given the rarity of so-called late-term abortions, pro-choice advocates tend to view bans on them as gateway efforts that could expand into a full-blown ban.

“This effort is purely political — there are no medical reasons for an abortion ban at any point in a pregnancy. All abortion bans are arbitrary and unnecessary, whether at 6 weeks in Alabama or 22 weeks in Colorado,” Karen Middleton, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado wrote in a statement.

Late-term bans can also have trouble capturing the full enthusiasm of the most hard-line pro-lifers, who prefer their abortion bans to be sweeping. As Bob Enyart, a spokesperson with anti-abortion group Colorado Right to Life, puts it, "You don't regulate how, when, why you can kill innocent children." Colorado Right to Life does not support the 22-week ban. As of Friday, the Colorado GOP has not responded to a request for comment. 

Colorado has a strong history of supporting abortion rights. In 1967, it was the first state to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, incest or risk to a woman's mental or physical health. Repeated attempts to ban abortion at the state legislature have failed.

“Coloradans have made their opinions pretty clear before. We’ve repeatedly defeated this at the ballot box,” says Laura Chapin, a spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice.

Update, September 20: This story has been updated to include a statement from Colorado Right to Life.