Backers of ballot measure to guarantee abortion rights say they’ve collected 500,000 signatures

The Women’s March, a national organization advocating for gender equality, leads a crowd around the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix, Ariz. on Jan. 20, 2024. The organization focused its annual event in Arizona to bring attention to an upcoming abortion initiative. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror

The effort to guarantee abortion access in Arizona has now surpassed the number of signatures it needs to qualify for the ballot — and the campaign said it will keep collecting signatures in order to ensure that Arizona voters will get to weigh in this year on whether abortion should be protected. 

The Arizona for Abortion Access campaign announced on Tuesday that it has so far gathered more than 500,000 signatures, with three months left to go before the July deadline. The campaign, which is made up of several reproductive rights groups including Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona and Reproductive Freedom for All Arizona, is spearheading a ballot initiative proposal, titled the Arizona Abortion Access Act, that would enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution. 

Because the measure is a constitutional amendment, it must garner 383,923 verified voter signatures before it can be presented to voters in November. 

Chris Love, a spokeswoman for the campaign, celebrated the accomplishment, saying the strength of the signature gathering efforts is a barometer of public support for the initiative. 

“This number is a testament to how popular reproductive freedom and protecting abortion access are among Arizona voters,” she said, in an emailed statement. 

A survey conducted by nonpartisan research organization Public Religion Research Institute in February 2023 estimated that as much as 62% of Arizonans think that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. 

Cheryl Bruce, campaign manager for Arizona for Abortion Access, noted that the proposal has been widely popular across the state, and has inspired more than 3,000 volunteers to aid in signature gathering. The campaign is also paying people to collect signatures. 

“Voters are eager to sign this petition and have a direct say in restoring abortion access,” Bruce said. 

“People are excited to sign, and many thank us for being out here,” added volunteer Susan Ashley. “It’s amazing to hear the stories people share as they sign, especially from mothers and grandmothers who say it’s unacceptable that their daughters and granddaughters have fewer freedoms than they did.” 

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in 2022, after nearly 50 years of guaranteeing a constitutional right to abortion, Arizona was plunged into legal uncertainty while state officials and the courts vied over two different abortion bans. The state appeals court eventually ruled that a 15-week gestational ban, with no exceptions for rape or incest, should be the law of the land. But that ruling is now in limbo, as the Arizona Supreme Court mulls whether to reinstate a near-total ban from 1864 that prohibits all abortions except for those to save the woman’s life and punishes doctors with 2 to 5 years in prison. 

Reproductive rights advocates hope the abortion initiative will serve to nullify those restrictions, and stave off future threats from the Republican-majority legislature that has repeatedly attempted to pass fetal personhood laws. 

If approved by voters, the initiative would establish abortion as a fundamental right of all Arizonans, and bar any law or policy from enacting restrictions on the procedure that aren’t made with the intent of protecting the patient. Much like the standard baked into Roe, the Arizona proposal would guarantee abortion access up to the point of fetal viability, which is generally considered to be between 23 to 24 weeks of gestation. It also includes an exception that allows for abortions beyond that point if the woman’s health care provider deems it necessary to protect her life, physical or mental health. 

And state officials would be prohibited from punishing anyone for helping a woman obtain an abortion. 

While half-a-million signatures is already more than the minimum needed to appear on the ballot, the campaign said it will continue its efforts to gather signatures. Spokeswoman Dawn Penich told the Mirror the campaign has its eye on double the required number and said signature gatherers have gone through “robust” training to collect accurate voter information.

Most initiative campaigns collect far above their signature requirement thresholds to ensure a buffer against those signatures that will eventually be thrown out during the verification process. 

Once on the ballot, abortion initiatives have proven to be winning proposals, even in deep red states. 

In Kansas, voters resoundingly rejected an attempt in 2022 that would struck down the right to abortion in the state. In Kentucky, voters blocked a bid to prevent the state constitution from protecting abortion. And in Ohio, voters both defeated an initiative aimed at making it more difficult to add abortion to the state constitution and later passed an amendment safeguarding abortion access.

Attendees at the 2024 March for Life rally in Phoenix on March 1, 2024, carry signs encouraging people not to sign a proposed ballot initiative that would enshrine abortion rights in the Arizona Constitution. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror

The push to protect abortion access in Arizona, on top of ensuring it makes it before voters in November, must also contend with vehement opposition from anti-abortion groups. The It Goes Too Far campaign is focused on convincing voters that the initiative is too extreme. 

Spokeswoman Cindy Dahlgren said most voters aren’t well-informed about the far-reaching consequences the initiative might have. Dahlgren is also the spokesperson for Center for Arizona Policy, which backed the 15-week law when it was moving through the legislature and has been the driving force behind most of Arizona’s other anti-abortion laws

“Unfortunately, most voters are not told that under this unregulated, unlimited abortion amendment they will lose the required medical doctor, critical and commonsense safety standards for girls and women seeking abortion, and moms and dads will be shut out of their minor daughter’s abortion decision, leaving her to go through the painful and scary process alone,” Dahlgren said in an emailed statement. “Abortion is legal in Arizona up to 15-weeks and we have common sense safety precautions to protect girls and women. It’s reckless to lose those safety precautions just to expand abortion beyond what most voters support.” 

Dahlgren pointed to a January 2023 poll from Marist which found that 79% of Americans support limits on abortion as proof that not all Arizonans would approve of unfettered abortion access. That same poll noted that as much as 61% of Americans consider themselves to be pro-choice, a significant jump from the 55% who said the same before Roe was overturned.

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