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Reproductive Rights Advocates Oppose Colorado’s Single-Payer Health-Care Measure

Jason Salzman

Reproductive rights advocates contend that because the single-payer initiative does not provide explicit guarantees of abortion coverage, Colorado's current ban on public funding for abortion (except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment) will remain in force, thus depriving patients of comprehensive health-care coverage.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) joined NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Monday in opposing a Colorado ballot initiative, known as “ColoradoCare,” that would mandate the government provide health insurance for all residents, eliminating private insurance companies in the state.

Both organizations contend that because the single-payer initiative, also known as Amendment 69, does not provide explicit guarantees of abortion coverage, Colorado’s current ban on public funding for abortion (except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment) will remain in force, thus depriving patients of the comprehensive health-care coverage promised by ColoradoCare.

“There has been a constitutional prohibition on state funding of abortion since 1984, and this ballot amendment would not supersede that mandate,” Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of PPRM, said in a statement, referring to Colorado’s Initiative 3. “Because of that 1984 amendment many women with public coverage today, including state and municipal employees and Medicaid beneficiaries, are already without coverage that includes abortion care. Amendment 69, if passed, would add to that number. We need to be working to remove barriers like these, not expanding them.”

Proponents of the single-payer initiative acknowledge that the “health-care services” to be provided under ColoradoCare do not specify abortion services, but they insist such care would be covered, if approved by a board that would be in charge of the government-run system.

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Abortion services “are clearly health care services,” wrote Ralph Ogden, general counsel for the ColoradoCare campaign, in a statement on the topic, adding that “nowhere does the amendment state that the board can provide payment for all health care services except elective abortions.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Director Karen Middleton surprised many state observers in June when she announced the organization’s opposition to ColoradoCare, arguing in a statement that Amendment 69 “would expand access to common healthcare services, but it would be at the expense of access to abortion care.”

Top Democrats, including House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, along with ProgressNow Colorado, which calls itself the state’s “largest online progressive organization,” have subsequently stated their opposition to ColoradoCare.

Local reproductive justice organizations have also pushed back against the ballot initiative.

“Too many Latinas continue to struggle to obtain necessary health care due to financial barriers or obstacles created by their immigration status,” Cristina Aguilar, executive director of COLOR, said in an email to Rewire. “We are dedicated to ensuring that we continue to build on the work that has been done to close these gaps, but in order to truly meet the needs of women we have to make sure that access to abortion is not seen as separate—this is necessary and critical care that many women in our community need.”

COLOR has taken a neutral position on ColoradoCare, said spokeswoman Victoria Gomez Betancourt.

Endorsers of the single-payer initiative include the League of Women Voters of Colorado, Public Citizen, numerous local Democratic Party organizations, and other entities, according to the ColoradoCare website.

Most progressive opponents of Amendment 69, including PPRM, which serves over 100,000 clients in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming, have praised the intentions of the measure’s organizers, including State Sen. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver).

“We applaud [State] Senator Aguilar and the leaders of Amendment 69, and we thank them for starting this important conversation,” Cowart said in her statement. “We too believe we must respond to the rising costs of care and the barriers too many Coloradans continue to face. We have fought for, responded to, and continue to believe in the need for universal health care. However, we believe universal health care means access to ALL services Coloradans need, including safe and legal abortion.”

Sen. Aguilar has responded by saying she’s confident abortion would be covered and that insurance companies, which have helped give opponents a 6-1 fundraising edge over backers of the initiative, will be the prime beneficiaries if the initiative fails in November.

“When we pass Amendment 69, every Coloradan—regardless of age, income, gender identity, or ethnicity—will have access to quality, affordable health care,” the senator told the Denver Post in June. “All women in Colorado will have full access to comprehensive reproductive services without financial barriers.”

If passed, the measure would be funded by a 10 percent payroll tax and allow all Colorado residents to choose their health-care providers.

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