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Signatures submitted for Arizona abortion rights ballot initiative

Volunteers unload boxes Wednesday, July 3, 2024, with petitions containing more than 820,000 signatures to put a measure on the November ballot to put a right to abortion into the Arizona Constitution.
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Volunteers unload boxes Wednesday, July 3, 2024, with petitions containing more than 820,000 signatures to put a measure on the November ballot to put a right to abortion into the Arizona Constitution.

Abortion advocates turned in over 820,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot in Arizona in November.

The Arizona for Abortion Access campaign turned in petition signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office to put an initiative on the ballot that would ask voters to enshrine the right to access abortion in the state Constitution.

Spokesperson Dawn Penich said the campaign collected 823,685 signatures, more than double the 384,000 signatures it needs to qualify for the ballot. She said that’s more signatures than any other campaign in state history.

“To put that into context, that means one out of every five Arizona voters signed this petition,” Penich said.

The Secretary of State’s Office must now verify the validity of the petition signatures. A spokesman said that the process will take 20 days.

Similar ballot questions have proven broadly popular when they go before voters in other states, though a different campaign to put abortion rights in the state constitution in Arizona failed to collect enough signatures in 2022.

That campaign was operating on a short timeline given after the Supreme Court’s decision leaked in May 2022. That left the Right to Reproductive Freedom Act campaign with just a few months to gather the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to send the proposal to voters.

Chris Love, a senior adviser for Arizona for Abortion Access campaign, said the decision not to rush this campaign was a prudent one.

“We needed the long runway to write the proper language and workshop it with attorneys here in the state and nationally, who've worked on other measures and other states,” Love said. “We needed to build infrastructure, we needed to fundraise, and we needed to put together this wonderful team of folks in the field.”

Love said the sheer number of signatures collected validated that decision.

“I think that our number now shows that we were right to wait, because we are well on our way to getting on the ballot and we will win in November,” Love said.

The Arizona for Abortion Access question won’t face any direct competition on the ballot after leaked plans from the Republican-controlled state legislature to refer alternative abortion law proposals to voters failed to come to fruition.

However, a campaign dubbed It Goes Too Far has promised to wage a campaign to convince voters to vote against the initiative.

Even after the state legislature repealed a territorial-era near-total abortion ban, supporters with the Arizona for Abortion Access campaign argue the initiative is needed because the current state law that allows abortions up to 15 weeks of pregnancy is too restrictive.

Obstetrician Paul Isaacson details Wednesday, July 3, 2024, why he believes Arizona needs a right to abortion in the Arizona Constitution.
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Obstetrician Paul Isaacson details Wednesday, July 3, 2024, why he believes Arizona needs a right to abortion in the Arizona Constitution.

Volunteer Susan Ashley, who collected signatures for the campaign, said the measure is needed to restore the right to access abortion for Arizonans that went away after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

“I've talked with many women in their 50s, 60s and 70s outraged that the young women in their state are denied a basic freedom that they themselves once enjoyed,” Ashley said. “They are fed up with having to sign petitions after 50 years of established law.”

But Dawn Grove, an attorney with the It Goes Too Far campaign, said the abortion proposal is too permissive and extends beyond the rights Americans had under Roe.

“I know lots of good Arizonans signed this petition to put this ballot initiative on the ballot because they were told that this would simply put Roe v Wade and restore it back into the Arizona Constitution, and that is not true,” Grove, a Republican who ran a failed campaign for Attorney General in 2022, said. “This misguided amendment goes far beyond Roe v. Wade.”

Grove argued the ballot question would broaden the definition of the types of medical professionals who can provide abortions and overrule state law requiring parental consent.

There is language in the initiative that says post-viability abortions can be performed when a health care professional determines it is necessary "to protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant individual.'' Grove said that language is too broad.

"It can include protecting the woman's mental health, financial health, her familial health, her stress and anxiety, any number of reasons that a profiting abortionist could point to and say we need a late-term abortion,'' she said.

But supporters insisted that the initiative, which would amend the state constitution, would not override state laws that spell out scope of practice.

"In Arizona, only a licensed physician, someone with more than a decade of post-secondary education and training, may perform an abortion,'' Dr. Paul Isaacson, a Phoenix obstetrician and gynecologist who also performs abortions, said. "This initiative does nothing to change that.''

Grove also suggested the ballot initiative, if approved by voters, would override existing laws governing abortions for minors.

In Arizona, someone younger than 18 has to obtain parental consent, though there is an option for that person to petition a court for a "judicial bypass.''

Penich, spokeswoman for the campaign, acknowledged the initiative that says “every individual has a fundamental right to abortion,” is silent on the question of parental consent.

Cindy Dalgrin, with It Goes Too Far, indicated the group does not plan to challenge the validity of the signatures collected by abortion advocates in court to keep the measure from reaching the ballot in the first place.

Instead, “we’re focused on educating as many voters as possible, through ‘till November,” she said.

So far, Arizona for Abortion Access has a resource advantage over its critics.

The campaign has raised $12 million so far and has $2.7 million in the bank, according to campaign finance reports.

Penich said the campaign is already gearing up for its next phase, which will include an ad blitz and knocking on doors.

“We just announced that we've reserved a $15 million television and radio buy that's a bilingual advertising campaign in the major hubs of Tucson and Phoenix,” Penich said. “In addition to that, these same 7000 voters who collected these signatures will be out knocking doors, talking to voters, making sure that people understand where to find us on this historically long ballot that we're expecting in November.”

It’s unclear how the opposition plans to counter that campaign, though representatives for It Goes Too Far say they will wage an educational campaign to inform voters about the implications of passing the abortion initiative.

It Goes Too Far has raised just over $520,000 so far and has $339,000 in the bank, according to campaign finance reports.

“We’re going to raise the money needed to run a campaign,” campaign supporter Joanna De La Cruz said. “I can’t tell you exactly how much we’re going to raise, but we’re going to raise the money that’s needed to run a strong campaign.”

Howard Fischer with Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.
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