Abortion votes in Colorado and Louisiana signal the future of access

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AAbortion rights were on the ballot in two states on Election Day, and the results went in opposite directions.

In Louisiana, voters approved a measure that will change the state constitution to state that it does not guarantee the right to abortion or the right to funded abortions. In Colorado, voters rejected an initiative that would have banned abortions at 22 weeks gestation.

The moves come as the fight for the future of abortion in the United States intensifies. Many states have offered increasingly restrictive abortion limits in recent years, sometimes with explicit strategy to hope that their law could end up in the Supreme Court and force a decision that could help overturn Roe vs. Wadethe landmark 1973 law legalizing abortion. With Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Court last month, raising new speculation that deer could be overturned, these findings provide a glimpse of what abortion law might look like without nationwide protections.

Louisiana’s Amendment 1, which was approved 62.1% to 37.9%, according to the Associated Press, is not the first time a state has changed its constitution in this way. Alabama and West Virginia passed similar constitutional amendments in 2018, and Tennessee did so in 2014.

The Louisiana amendment will not change much immediately. The state already has what is called a “trigger law, which would ban abortion if deer c. Wade is reversed, and this new wording will make it harder to challenge this ban — or other future restrictions on abortion — in court.

Challenges to the abortion law are common in Louisiana. In June, the Supreme Court struck down another Louisiana law this required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, but left open the possibility of maintaining future limits.

“Louisiana has been used for decades as a testing ground for anti-abortion policies and tactics,” says Steffani Bangel, executive director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund. Louisiana has passed 89 abortion restrictions since deer, more than any other state, and there are only three abortion clinics left in the state. Bangel also said she expects to see abortion opponents use the constitutional amendment strategy in other states as well. “I can guarantee you’ll see this sweep the South, sweep the Midwest,” she says. “It sets a really dangerous precedent in the possibility of a post-Roe world.”

In Colorado, anti-abortion groups hoped to ban the procedure after 22 weeks’ gestation with only one exception: if “an abortion is immediately required to save the life of a pregnant woman.” This meant that there would be no exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities or the health of the pregnant person.

However, voters rejected the ballot initiative 59.1% to 40.9%, according to the AP. Colorado residents voted against last four measures of the ballot restrict abortions in the state, but the ballot was tight heading towards election day.

Like the Louisiana measure, this proposal also had national implications. Abortions later in pregnancy are extremely rare, with only 1.2% of abortions occurring at or after 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention. They are often difficult to obtain, as the procedure is expensive and offered by a small number of abortion providers. Colorado is one of the only seven states which has no gestational limit to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research center that supports abortion rights, so people from across the country travel there to access the procedure by necessity. Last year, 11% of abortions in Colorado involved patients from 30 other states, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Had the ban passed, advocates were particularly concerned about the impact it could have had on already vulnerable communities. “Any type of ban, attack or limit has a disproportionate impact on black and brown women and youth,” says Dusti Gurule, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), which was part of a coalition opposed to the proposal.

More than 20% of Colorado’s population is Hispanic, according to Census data, and this community already faces many barriers to accessing health care. Banning abortion at 22 weeks would have made it even harder for people who don’t have extra income or can’t take time off work to travel to access the procedure, Gurule says. Colorado residents currently have to travel an average of 15 miles to access subsequent abortion services, she said, citing Guttmacher’s research, and the ban would have increased that to nearly 450 miles.

The defeat of the measure in Colorado represents a victory for reproductive rights advocates, but the high stakes are also a reminder of how the abortion landscape will continue to change from state to state. If other states take the example of Louisiana and if deer is finally overturned, people seeking access to abortion will depend even more heavily on states like Colorado in the future.

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Write to Abigail Abrams at [email protected]

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