Az initiative to guarantee abortion rights collects 500,000 signatures

Gloria Rebecca Gomez
9 Min Read


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.

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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Gloria Rebecca Gomez , www.tucsonsentinel.com
Local news | TucsonSentinel.com , 2024-04-02 19:36:54
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