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Reproductive rights groups collect signatures in Aspen to get abortion protections on the ballot

Reproductive rights advocates in Colorado are racing to gather enough signatures to put Proposition 89 on the November ballot ahead of the April 25 deadline.

The ballot measure would secure a person’s right to have an abortion in the state constitution. It would also eliminate some barriers to state funding and insurance coverage.

Several Denver-based groups were collecting signatures in Aspen on Tuesday, Feb. 13. People were eager to participate in the effort; some lined up at the doors of the Pitkin County Library 10 minutes before the event started.

Longtime Aspen resident Mary Dominick was among the first to sign her name in support of the proposed ballot measure.

“I had an abortion when I was 19, and if I hadn't been able to do that, I would've been much too young a mother,” Dominick said. “And I felt even then, which is quite a long time ago since I'm now in my eighties, that a woman has a right to her own body and to her own decisions about her body.”

Abortion was illegal in the U.S. at the time, and Dominick still remembers her dad picking her up from college and driving her to Chicago for the procedure.

“Was I afraid? Yes. I was afraid,” she said. “I'm not into pain and I couldn't have any anesthetic.”

Things didn't get any easier when Dominick returned to school.

“I came back and I wasn't pregnant anymore. Consequently, the dean of women excused me from college,” she said.

Dominick took a semester off, then went back to college to complete her degree.

Years later, in 1973, when the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on the decision that legalized abortion in America, Dominick was there, standing outside the building.

“It was broadcast on television and I could watch it from the steps when they passed Roe v. Wade,” she said. “And to see that all turn back is very, very depressing.”

Denver residents Tina Staley and Jocelyn Childs were part of the cohort gathering signatures in Aspen.

They started the group Social and Political Understanding of Reproductive Rights, or “SPURR,” which organized the event.

“So there are several things that people always ask: ‘Why do we need this? Isn't abortion legal in Colorado?’ And the answer to that is, ‘Yes, it is currently legal in Colorado, but that can change with a different administration,’” Childs said.

Just before Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, Colorado’s majority-Democrat legislature passed a law stating that every resident has the right to an abortion.

The law also prevents individual cities in Colorado from banning abortions, and it says an embryo or fetus does not have independent rights.

But with federal protections gone, advocates want to take abortion protections a step further and enshrine access in the state constitution.

“That's why we're here today collecting these signatures, because people really aren't aware that we have a window of time to make this a constitutional amendment,” Staley said.

Proposition 89 would also ask voters to eliminate Colorado’s ban on public funding for abortions and allow public employees to get coverage for the procedure through their health insurance.

Cidney Fisk works for the reproductive rights nonprofit Cobalt, which is part of the statewide coalition Coloradans for Protecting Reproductive Freedom that’s backing the measure.

“We actually have a constitutional amendment that is what we call a 'public funding ban,’ and it prohibits any insurance plans with state money to cover abortion,” Fisk said. “So now we're going to overturn that because we don't think that you have rights without access, so we don't want to give a hollow promise.”

The coalition hasn’t seen any protestors at their signature-gathering events — though opponents, including some Republican lawmakers, have spoken out against the measure.

They believe it’s wrong to ask taxpayers to contribute towards something that’s against their moral or religious beliefs.

But Joceyln Childs with SPURR says this is about reproductive health care.

“Paying for mifepristone is no different than paying for Viagra, and Viagra is covered under Medicaid as well as (insurance) for state employees — and vasectomies are covered,” Childs said. “So this is just another healthcare issue that will be covered.”

At one of the signature signing tables, Aspen volunteer Tori Adams was helping people fill out their contact information.

She wore a necklace with silver pendants designed to look like the abortion pill mifepristone and a T-shirt that said, ‘We won’t go back.’

“I was raised in a progressive family and so that started it out,” Adams said. “As I became an adult, I recognized how important it is to plan families and accept families of all variations, and to rejoice when a planned, healthy pregnancy comes to fruition, and to let every person have their choice about becoming a parent or not.”

Adams raised her daughters in Texas, where she worked as a critical care nurse for years, and she’s seen abortion become politicized along with gender-affirming care, sex education and access to contraception.

“Those things divide families, they divide colleagues, they divide neighborhoods,” she said. “And it doesn't have to be that way.”

As a medical professional, Adams wants everyone to have the education — and the right — to make their own choice about their bodies.

And if petition organizers collect enough signatures, that choice could start at the ballot box in November.

At the event in Aspen on Tuesday, Feb. 13, organizers collected 165 signatures in support of Proposition 89.

The coalition needs more than 124,000 signatures from across the state by April 25 to get the measure on the November ballot.

As of Feb. 13, they had collected 45,000.

Copyright 2024 Aspen Public Radio . To see more, visit Aspen Public Radio.

Eleanor Bennett