In Colorado, voters will be faced with a ballot measure that bans abortion after 22 weeks gestation, “with one exception — when the life of the mother is at risk. There are no exceptions built into the proposal for rape, incest or a lethal fetal diagnosis.” The abortion opponents supporting the ballot measure claim it is needed because “late-term abortion is dangerous” and “unspeakably cruel.” Right-wing media frequently try to advance this misinformation about later abortion -- including calling it “infanticide.” However, as the Guttmacher Institute explained, the procedure used for later abortions “is a safe and routine method of abortion.” In addition, complications from such a procedure are “less frequent than the complications of giving birth."
Opponents also point to the alleged viability of fetuses at this point in pregnancy, but as Dr. Kristina Tocce, the vice president and medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, explained to CPR News, “There's not a viability switch, that automatically gets flipped at 22 weeks or any gestational age for that matter because each pregnancy is unique and medical circumstances differ from patient to patient.”
In addition, bans on later abortions are truly what is “unspeakably cruel,” because many abortions performed at this stage are for wanted pregnancies or for abortions delayed because of barriers to access put in place by anti-choice politicians. The accounts of people who decided to have an abortion later in pregnancy show the complexity behind such a choice and the necessity of being able to access the full range of treatment options to get the best care, including abortion. CPR News detailed one such story:
Christina Taylor was 20-weeks pregnant with her third child in May 2017 when she, her husband and two children excitedly went in for an ultrasound to check on development and to learn the sex.
“The ultrasound tech was looking at me, and she was pretty quiet,” Christina said. “I learned later that they can't give you a diagnosis. You have to wait for the doctor to look it over.”
“The doctor had come in and told us that our baby had no kidneys, and I had no amniotic fluid,” she said. “He was squished basically in a sort of sausage of my uterus without the aid of any fluid in there.”
A second opinion and an MRI later, they discovered the fetus, who they named Gene, was a boy, and not only was he missing his kidneys and amniotic fluid, he was also missing his bladder.
They decided to get an abortion at 21 weeks and one day.
“They were able to give us our son, and I was able to hold him, you know, in my hand. And at the time he weighed about a pound, so he was extremely small,” Roy said. “There was nothing gross or horrible. It was just our son. He was just very small and wasn't alive. And we got to hold him. The way that they paint these as this is just horrible, bloody, graphic, just some kind of horror novel situation is just so, so different than the reality that we experienced.”
After the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, Colorado’s ballot measure gained much more significance. As Ginsburg’s replacement, Barrett will likely serve as a crucial vote for upholding abortion restrictions and overturning Roe v. Wade, given her previous statements and opinions on legal abortion access. A Supreme Court decision overturning Roe would result in legal abortion regulation going back to the states, and states would undoubtedly enact complete bans or implement restrictions like the ones set out in the Colorado ballot measure. In an opinion piece for The Colorado Sun, the Guttmacher Institute’s Dr. Liza Fuentes and Elizabeth Nash explained the impact Colorado’s ban alone would have in the current abortion access landscape:
The average one-way driving distance for a Colorado woman of reproductive age to a clinic that could provide later abortion care would increase from 15 miles to 445 miles — a stunning 430-mile increase, or almost 30 times farther.
Moreover, under a ban, 100% of Colorado women of reproductive age would have to travel at least 300 miles — again, one-way — to reach the nearest clinic providing abortion care later in pregnancy. And four out of every five Colorado women would have to travel at least 400 miles each way to reach the nearest clinic providing abortion care later in pregnancy.
It doesn’t stop there. Banning later abortion in Colorado would affect people in surrounding states, most of which are hostile to abortion rights, who would no longer be able to seek care in Colorado.
Last year, the Colorado Department of Health reported that 11% of abortions provided in the state were for patients who traveled from more than 30 states, many overcoming enormous logistical barriers and politically motivated restrictions in their home states.
Louisiana’s ballot measure would add the following language to the state constitution: “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” Abortion opponents say the amendment is necessary to counter other states that have recognized “a right to abortion and the tax-funding of abortion” in their constitutions, resulting in “reinforcing an abortion-on-demand policy.” Right-wing media also employ language like “abortion-on-demand” as a mechanism to vilify and shame individuals who have abortions and delegitimize support for legal abortion access.
While Louisiana already has a trigger law that would automatically outlaw legal abortion access in the state if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, as WWNO explained, if this ballot measure passes and becomes law, “there would be no legal avenue to challenge that law. Anyone who wanted an abortion would need to travel to get one, likely much further away than Florida” as “states across the South are poised to ban abortion.” Elizabeth Gelvin, client and community coordinator for the New Orleans Abortion Fund, told Rewire News Group, “It has this pretty scary impact of limiting or restricting our ability to push forward legislation that would increase abortion access.” Abortion opponents supported the ballot measure:
It was pitched as a way to ensure that if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which currently makes the pregnancy termination procedure legal, then states would be allowed to decide the issue on their own and Louisiana courts would enter that new world with the knowledge the state’s residents prefer forbidding abortions.
Abortion access in Louisiana is already incredibly fraught. Nicholls State University professor Alex Fabrizio Sumpter wrote for The Washington Post about her own experience as she sought an abortion after a fatal fetal diagnosis:
In Louisiana, no major obstetrics and gynecology group performs abortion services. Because my baby’s heartbeat still flickered weakly, my obstetrician could do nothing to help hasten my miscarriage. She squeezed my hand as she gave me a yellow Post-it with the information of the closest clinic. On it she wrote, “You’ll get through this.” What I learned when I called the clinic was the demand for abortions in Louisiana far exceeds the number of providers who can help. It would be nearly three weeks before they could see me; there would be no way for me to avoid a surgical procedure at that gestational age. A week later, I crossed three states to end my pregnancy in Florida on the very last day they could provide a medical abortion. I walked through a small crowd of protesters to enter the clinic. One sign read: “Welcome to hell.” Inside the clinic were dozens of women, packed into the waiting room. An employee told me that most of the clinic’s patients come from Louisiana and Mississippi.
The ballot measures in Colorado and Louisiana fall in line with the same anti-abortion misinformation promoted by right-wing media and other abortion opponents over the years. The presumptive new make-up of the Supreme Court gives an extra bite to such rhetoric this election cycle.