Change the Colorado Constitution to allow publicly funded abortion

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Colorado is unprepared for the impending surge in demand for abortions. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wadeour state is now a pro-choice island, so we must take action to ensure broad and equitable access to abortion.

Logan Harper, MD

As a Denver resident family physician, I am unable to provide abortion care at my clinic due to a 1984 state constitutional amendment which prohibits the use of public funds for abortion. This law limits access to essential reproductive health care and disproportionately affects poor, rural, black, indigenous, and Latino people in Colorado. To serve as a bastion of the abortion access the country desperately needs, we need bold political leadership committed to overcoming the unjust status quo of the state.

To truly promote reproductive justice in Colorado, we need to make public funds available for abortions. This would improve access to abortion in three key ways.

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First, it would allow state-funded health insurance plans, including Medicaid and Colorado State Employees Health Insurance, to cover the procedure. Currently, abortion is only covered by these plans in cases of rape, incest or life-threatening pregnancy.

Everyone should have access to abortion in Colorado, not just those with financial means or private health insurance. This would require all state-sponsored insurance plans to provide comprehensive coverage. And since Medicaid recipients are more likely to identify as black, indigenous, or Latino, it’s a matter of racial and reproductive justice.

Second, health systems that receive state funding would be able to expand abortion services, rather than relying on private organizations such as Planned Parenthood to meet growing demand. Currently, my colleagues and I are forced to refer patients to other clinics with potentially long wait lists for safe service and well within the skill set of many primary care providers. This is inefficient and fragmented health care, and we must do better for Coloradans by expanding access to abortion at publicly funded clinics.

Third, publicly funded abortions would help those currently in training to learn how to perform abortions. Students and residents are the future of Colorado’s medical workforce, but we face limited opportunities to learn about abortion care. Using public funds to help expand abortion education is a necessary step in preparing our healthcare system for increased demand.

The restriction on the use of public funds for abortions is a relic of Colorado’s political past that does not reflect modern Colorado values. The law stems from a 1984 constitutional amendment that voters approved by a narrow margin of 50.3% to 49.6%.

It is incomprehensible that a similar amendment is adopted today.

As recently as 2020, Coloradans made a strong pro-choice statement by strongly rejecting an election measure that would have banned all abortions after 22 weeks gestation. The margin was a solid 59-41%, demonstrating that Coloradans want abortions to be readily available. Political leaders should commit to ensuring state laws reflect the voice of the people, working to enable state funding for abortion.

We’ve made great strides to protect reproductive rights in Colorado, but lack of state funding remains a major barrier to access. Earlier this year, Governor Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which declares a person’s right to make decisions about reproductive health without government interference. It’s an important step, but it does nothing to provide resources to expand access to abortion.

In a Colorado Public Radio interview earlier this year, Polis refused to openly support changing Colorado law to allow state funding of abortion. It’s an inexplicable contradiction for a self-proclaimed defender of reproductive rights. In the interview, he correctly states that allowing state funds to be used for abortion would require changing the state constitution, an initiative that cannot come from the governor. But the governor’s refusal to commit to supporting a key, and likely very popular, constitutional amendment is tantamount to appeasement of a failing system.

Thanks to an unjust US Supreme Court ruling, Colorado faces an impending tidal wave of abortion demands that we are ill-prepared to respond to. If you are outraged at the end of Roe vs. Wadethe most important thing you can do is work to elect pro-choice candidates this fall who will do more than just talk about reproductive rights.

Ultimately, providing public funding for abortion will require passage of a ballot measure to amend the state Constitution in 2024, but strong support from political leaders will improve the amendment’s chances of success. . Coloradans should demand that Governor Polis and state legislators show real leadership in championing a constitutional amendment to allow state funding for abortion.


Logan Harper, MD, lives in Denver. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not represent a position of the University of Colorado or the School of Medicine.


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