Anti-Abortion Ballot Initiatives in Colorado 2010-2020

As the prospect of further damage to pro-abortion laws looms in the United States, including the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, I wanted to illustrate one area where such a measure would likely fall short: Colorado. Since 2010, Coloradans have rejected several attempts to restrict abortion and have kept Colorado one of the most lenient states in the nation with regards to abortion and other elements of reproductive healthcare. This article will examine those attempts in 2010, 2014, and 2020.


Amendment 62: Colorado Fetal Personhood

The 2010 measure was the second time Colorado voters saw an abortion-related measure on the statewide ballot; the first being in 2008. Amendment 48 appeared on the 2008 ballot as an initiated constitutional amendment. The measure was defeated 73% to 27%.

The 2008 version defined a person as “any human being from the moment of fertilization,” whereas the 2010 version defined a person as “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”

The 2010 proposed amendment did not include the word “fertilization” in it.

According to Gualberto Garcia Jones, Colorado Personhood director and proponent of the initiative, the change in language was made in order to be more “comprehensive in our definition of a person.” For example, Jones noted that the new language accounted for human beings created through asexual reproduction in laboratories. “Fertilization would not have properly applied to asexually reproduced humans, but even asexually reproduced human beings have a definite biological beginning,” said Jones.

In late April 2010 Protect Families Protect Choices announced they launched an “aggressive” campaign against Amendment 62. The campaign pointed to the results of a 2008 ballot question that was rejected by an estimated 1.7 million voters. Jeremy Shaver, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, said, “In 2008, voters learned that the ‘definition of a person’ amendment was an overt attempt to insert religion into law. We will fight once again to make sure Coloradans know the truth about Amendment 62.”

Other groups that opposed the amendment included: National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and the Coalition for Secular Government.

Monica McCafferty of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said, “The new initiative has the same goal as Amendment 48, to ban all abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the woman is in danger.”

Had the initiative succeeded, it would have amended Article II of the Colorado Constitution by the addition of a new section, Section 32, which read:

Section 32. Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the term “person” shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.

The amendment language was written by Dianne Irving.

From Ballotpedia, retrieved 2021-12-15

2010 Governor Election in Colorado

The 2010 campaign for Governor in Colorado initially seemed like a massive boon for Republicans. Governor Bill Ritter, who had been elected in a massive 16.8% victory in 2006, announced he would not run for a second term in 2010. With a year that already was looking good for Republicans, there was hope that this would make for an easy flip of the office for the Republican Party.

However, while Democrats united in nominating Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the Republican Primary was a nasty and disastrous affair. Initially, former Representative Scott McInnis of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District seemed like a strong candidate for Governor. However, the more establishment McInnis was plagued with scandal while his opponent, businessman Dan Maes, received support of the Tea Party movement. As the primary between Maes and McInnis turned nasty, another wrench was thrown in the works: Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado’s 6th Congressional District did not run in the primary himself but demanded to be made the nominee with Maes and McInnis stepping down. When neither did, Tancredo jumped into the race on the Constitution Party ticket.

The race then became a three-way between Democrat John Hickenlooper, Republican Dan Maes (who narrowly won the primary over McInnis), and Tom Tancredo. While Tancredo initially had strong polling numbers, it became clear over the course of the campaign that Maes and Tancredo were cannibalizing each other’s voters and allowing Hickenlooper to surge ahead. It even came with the risk that the Colorado Republican Party would lose major party status in Colorado by falling under 10% of the vote in the race. Ultimately, this all allowed Hickenlooper to win an easy victory with himself getting over 50% of the vote while Tancredo got 36% and Maes just cleared the 10% threshold for major party status.

2010 Senate Race in Colorado

Like in the Governor’s race, the 2010 Senate race initially seemed like a gift for Colorado Republicans. The strong incumbent Democratic Senator Ken Salazar–first elected in 2004 during an otherwise good year for Republicans–was picked by President Obama in 2009 to serve as Secretary of the Interior. Governor Bill Ritter made the surprising choice to nominate Superintendent of Denver Public Schools Michael Bennet to fill the vacancy. Michael Bennet also announced his intention to run for the general election in 2010 and defeated former Speaker of the Colorado House Andrew Romanoff for the nomination.

On the Republican side, the primary became another fight between the establishment and grassroots Tea Party movement that swept over the nation in 2010. Jane Norton, the former Lieutenant Governor of Colorado under Governor Bill Owens from 2003 to 2007, was the establishment choice who received endorsements from sitting politicians in Colorado and elsewhere. The Tea Party movement, however, threw its backing behind Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck. The primary proved to be a close fight with Buck only narrowly defeating Norton.

The general election then became a competition steeped in millions of dollars of donor money which made the Colorado Senate race the most expensive of the 2010 cycle. While Buck ran on surging opposition to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, Bennet focused on Buck’s positions on abortion–seeking to outlaw it even in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger–as well as his opposition to the 17th Amendment, which legalized electing Senators by popular vote. The election campaign came down to the wire, but ultimately even in a Red Wave year Bennet got the victory as Buck’s social positions proved too onerous for Colorado voters.

Amendment 67 vs. Democratic Electoral Performance in 2010

In an otherwise close year, the votes for No on Amendment 62 vastly outweighed those for any Democratic politician. The initiative proved far too much for Colorado voters and many Republican voters, particularly those in rural Colorado, were very willing to split their ballots. Votes for Democrats and against the initiative were closest around Denver and southern Colorado, particularly as Hickenlooper proved strong in both of those areas.


Amendment 67: Colorado Definition of “Personhood” Initiative

The supporters and proponents of the proposed Amendment 67 called it the “Brady Project” or the “Brady Amendment” in honor of Heather Surovik’s unborn child who was killed in a car accident in Surovik’s eighth month of pregnancy. The driver responsible for the accident pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and driving under the influence, but he was not prosecuted for the death of the unborn “Brady” because under Colorado law a fetus is treated as part of the mother’s body until birth. Personhood Colorado literature had this to say about the incident and the initiative: “A drunk driver killed Heather Surovik’s eight month old preborn son Brady but avoided prosecution because Colorado law doesn’t recognize Brady as a person. In honor of her son, Heather Surovik has initiated the Brady Amendment to recognize unborn babies as persons in law.”

Those who were opposed to Amendment 67 claimed that it was too similar to previous personhood definition attempts by the same group in 2008 and 2010, which were soundly rejected by voters. Opponents were concerned that this initiative might have provided a disguised way to take legal action against abortion practices. Opponents had this to say about Amendment 67: “The measure expands the term person to include ‘unborn human being,’ which has no established legal or medical definition, is not defined in the amendment, and would apply at all stages of pregnancy, including from the moment of fertilization. So once again we are giving legal and constitutional rights to a woman’s fertilized egg. The measure would make any abortion a crime, would make pregnant women and health care providers criminally and civilly liable for any pregnancy that does not result in a live birth, regardless of the stage of pregnancy. It would also outlaw any birth control options like the Pill, IUDs and emergency contraception, as they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.”

If successful, the following Section 17 would have been added to Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution:

Section 17. Protection of Pregnant Mothers and Unborn Children

  1. Purpose and findings. In 2009, Judges of the Colorado State Court of Appeals in People V. Lage 232 P.3d (Colo. App. 2009) concluded that:

    1. “There is no definition of ‘person’ or ‘child’ of general applicability in the Criminal Code” (majority opinion by Judge Roy); and

    2. “This is an area that cries out for new legislation. Our General Assembly, unlike congress and most state legislatures, has precluded homicide prosecutions for killing the unborn” (Judge Connelly concurring in part and dissenting in part).

  2. Definitions. In the interest of the protection of pregnant mothers and their unborn children from criminal offenses and neglect and wrongful acts, the words “person” and “child” in the Colorado Criminal Code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act must include unborn human beings.

  3. Self executing, and severability provision. All provisions of this section are self-executing and are severable.

  4. Effective date. All provisions of this section shall become effective upon official declaration of the vote hereon by proclamation of the governor pursuant to section 1(4) of Article V.

From Ballotpedia, retrieved 2021-12-15

2014 Governor Election in Colorado

In 2014, Republicans sought to take advantage of the R-leaning national environment and Governor Hickenlooper’s sinking approval ratings to win the Governor’s office for the first time since 2002. The Republican Primary to be the party’s Gubernatorial nominee was spirited and became a four-way race between 2010 Constitution Party Gubernatorial nominee and former Representative of Colorado’s 6th Congressional District Tom Tancredo; Secretary of State Scott Gessler; former Minority Leader of the Colorado Senate Mike Kopp; and 2006 Republican Party Gubernatorial nominee and former Representative of Colorado’s 7th Congressional District Bob Beauprez. In the end, Beauprez narrowly prevailed in the primary and went into the general election with many polls showing him ahead. It was only late into election night that Hickenlooper managed to take a lead in the vote counting and would just narrowly pull off a win thanks to his diverse coalition even as the rest of Colorado was caught up in a Red Wave.

2014 Senate Election in Colorado

The 2014 Senate race between incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall and Republican Congressman Cory Gardner from Colorado’s 4th Congressional District focused heavily on abortion and other pregnancy care. Udall repeatedly attacked Gardner from his first ad on Gardner’s stance concerning abortion care. While Democrats initially thought the effort would succeed, Udall ended up defining his campaign around abortion and attacking Gardner’s character while Gardner was able to mollify voters with promises to expand over the counter contraceptives and not overturning Roe v. Wade. In the end, Gardner’s moderate stance on abortion and Udall’s negative campaigning in an R-leaning year gave Gardner a narrow win, becoming the first Coloradan to unseat an incumbent Senator in 36 years. Gardner, however, would move to the right while in office and himself be unseated in 2020 by former Governor John Hickenlooper, who was re-elected in 2014 to the Governor’s office at the same time.

Amendment 67 vs. Democratic Electoral Performance in 2014

The votes for No on Amendment 67 easily outran both Democratic candidates in 2014 as the ballot measure proved far more unpopular than any Republican candidate for office. As the measure was seen as too extreme for Coloradans and ran opposite of what some Republican candidates like Cory Gardner were saying on abortion, it proved to be an easy win for “No on 67” proponents. The pair of Democrats, as usual in Colorado, did better against No on 67 in Hispanic-majority areas around metro Denver and southern Colorado, while No on 67 outperformed the best in the socially libertarian areas of mountainous Western Colorado and the windswept plains of Eastern Colorado.


Proposition 115: 22-Week Abortion Ban Initiative

As of the election, Colorado did not limit the gestational age at which an abortion can be performed. This initiative would have prohibited abortions after a fetus reaches 22 weeks gestational age as calculated from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. Gestational age would have been assessed and determined by the physician performing the abortion.

Under the initiative, abortions after 22 weeks would have been lawful if the physician believes it is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman. In such a situation, the physician would have been allowed to rely on the gestational age assessment made by another physician.

Under the initiative, performing a prohibited abortion would have been a Class 1 misdemeanor (the most serious level of misdemeanor in Colorado), which would have been punishable by a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000 and not by jail time. A woman who had a prohibited abortion could not have been charged with a crime under the initiative. Medical professionals found to have performed a prohibited abortion would have had their medical licenses suspended by the Colorado Medical Board for at least three years.

The official Blue Book argument in favor read: “The measure protects viable human life by placing a reasonable restriction on abortion after an infant can live outside the mother’s womb. Colorado is one of only seven states that allow abortion at any time during a pregnancy even though infants born as early as 22 weeks gestation can survive outside the womb and experience good developmental outcomes. The measure allows time for a pregnant woman to make a choice about her pregnancy, and permits abortion after 22 weeks when necessary to save the life of the mother. In addition, the measure does not penalize women who receive prohibited abortions. This is a balanced approach with reasonable and limited exceptions that recognizes the dignity of women and the humanity of their unborn children.”

The official Blue Book argument against read: “Restricting access to abortion limits a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and interferes with the patient and doctor relationship. The choice to end a pregnancy is often a serious and difficult decision, and should be left solely up to the woman, in consultation with her doctor and in accordance with her beliefs. The measure does not include any exceptions for risks to the woman’s health or for a woman who has been the victim of rape or incest to obtain an abortion after 22 weeks. In addition, it provides no exceptions for the detection of a serious fetal abnormality after 22 weeks, which may force women to carry a nonviable pregnancy to term. Every pregnancy is unique, and decisions related to pregnancy should not be arbitrarily limited by state government.”

From Ballotpedia, retrieved 2021-12-15

2020 Presidential Election in Colorado

In 2020, Joe Biden won Colorado’s 9 electoral votes by a margin of 13.5%, winning 1,804,352 votes to Donald Trump’s 1,364,607. This victory represented the best performance for a Democratic Presidential candidate in the state since 1964 and the first double digit win in Colorado since 1984. This election also marked the transformation of Colorado being considered a battleground state into a more safely Democratic state as Colorado voted for Democratic Presidential candidates four times in a row (2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020) for the first time in the state’s history.

2020 Senate Election in Colorado

In 2020 Colorado was one of the states targeted most as a potential to flip to Democrats for its Senate seat. As Democrats sought to capture control of the Senate for the first time since 2015, the senate race in Colorado was hotly-contested. The Democratic Party in its primary ended up nominating former Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper to go up against incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner. Gardner had won his seat in 2014 in a Republican wave year at a time when Colorado was much more competitive. Colorado’s new streak of Democratic dominance continued as Hickenlooper easily unseated Gardner and helped deliver the Democratic Party a narrow 50 seat majority in the United States Senate.

Proposition 115 vs. Democratic Electoral Performance in 2020

The votes for No on Proposition 115 outran both John Hickenlooper and Joe Biden in 2020, though the performance was not even across the board. No performed better than either candidate in mountainous rural Western Colorado as well as the flat and rural Eastern Colorado Plains. Both Biden and Hickenlooper did better than No around metro Denver and in rural Hispanic-majority areas in southern Colorado. Biden notably ran better than No in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, cementing his strength among both liberal and moderate suburban voters in Colorado.