Colorado’s leading pro-choice group has come out against Amendment 69, saying the proposed single-payer ColoradoCare system would impede abortion access in the state.
“I think everybody supports the goal of improved healthcare for all Coloradans. But because Amendment 69 can’t provide guarantees to affordable abortion access, it isn’t truly universal health care,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado’s director, Karen Middleton.
In many ways, the pro-choice movement seems a natural ally of ColoradoCare. Both work to ensure healthcare options for as many Coloradans as possible, especially the medically underserved.
But NARAL says a 1984 state constitutional amendment banning state-funded abortions would classify Colorado’s single-payer health care system as a subdivision of the state and preclude access to abortions.
For months, ColoradoCare proponents tried to convince NARAL’s board members – some of whom embrace the notion of universal health care – to stay neutral on the Amendment 69. ColoradoCare leaders reportedly suggested a work-around whereby women could buy supplemental health care plans that would cover abortions.
But NARAL dismisses that option, saying abortion, by definition, isn’t a procedure anyone expects or plans for. NARAL also rejects the assumption that, under a statewide universal health care system, abortions wouldn’t be needed because birth control would be accessible to all. Even under a single-payer system, the group counters, women would still seek abortions in cases such as fetal abnormalities.
The NARAL board voted this evening to oppose Amendment 69, saying silence on the issue isn’t an option.
“We’re not going to be quiet about it when it’s a very obvious policy hole in what otherwise might have been a good idea,” Middleton said.
Sen. Irene Aguilar, a leading Amendment 69 proponent, said tonight she’s “disappointed” with NARAL’s position, which she called “unfounded.”
“It’s written generally enough to cover all women’s health care services,” she said.
The ColoradoCare campaign has a different legal interpretation than NARAL’s, saying Amendment 69 would be newer than the 1984 amendment, and therefore would supersede restrictions on funding elective abortions.
“The general rule is that where an apparent conflict exists between two statutes, the courts must attempt to harmonize them to effectuate the intent of the general assembly. If the two cannot be harmonized, the statute enacted last in time controls,” reads a legal interpretation by Ralph Ogden, an attorney for the Amendment 69 campaign.
Aguilar noted that 350,000 people are uninsured in Colorado – half of whom are women – and that 700,000 residents in the state are underinsured. She also noted that there were about 10,000 abortions in Colorado last year.
“ColoradoCare would provide comprehensive care to all of of those women,” she said. “I think it’s incredibly short-sighted to take a position that potentially denies hundreds of thousands of women access to comprehensive health care services for the remote possibility that our legal argument – which at maximum affects 10,000 women – would not stand up in court.”
NARAL’s Middleton derided ColoradoCare’s leaders for not having addressed the obstacle of the 1984 amendment before asking voters to approve a single-payer health care system.
“If you’re thinking about passing universal healthcare in Colorado, contemplating that barrier would have been a good idea,” she said.
The voter-approved amendment banning state-funded abortions would likely be difficult to undo.
The measure was narrowly approved by voters in 1984 after a campaign without much organized opposition. It prohibits the state from funding abortions, directly or indirectly.
Pro-choice advocates sought to repeal it in 1988. The repeal campaign included a young media consultant, David Axelrod, and a young pollster, Celinda Lake, both of whom went on to become major Democratic Party strategists. It also included Denver strategy duo Joannie Braden and Rick Ridder.
“It was a good campaign, raised a fair amount of money — and we got our asses kicked,” Ridder says about the repeal effort’s 60-40 percent defeat.
“This was a case where, clearly, voters didn’t want their money used for abortion. It became a fiscal issue, not just a value issue. … And my sense is that all these years later, nothing much has changed. I don’t think that anybody thinks repealing that amendment is a winning issue. These days, I also don’t think there’s a lot of support for having the debate all over again,” added Ridder who, incidentally, has done polling for the ColoradoCare campaign.
Amendment 69 needs about a million votes to be passed into law.
Polls show that Colorado voters feel the health care system is broken and generally like the idea of a Medicare-for-all solution in the state. But polls also show voters are put off by ColoradoCare’s $25 billion price tag.
Aguilar dismissed concerns that NARAL’s stance against Amendment 69 may cost her campaign some support among progressive voters.
“If anything,” she said, “I worry there will be a backlash against NARAL.”
Photo credit: Allen Tian