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Arizona abortion rights group secures signatures for 2024 ballot referendum

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Arizona activists say they have gathered enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment to create a “fundamental right” to abortion on the state’s ballot in November. 

Arizona for Abortion Access, a coalition of pro-choice groups including the ACLU of Arizona and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, says it has collected more than 500,000 signatures from registered voters who want to see abortion rights on the ballot. The threshold to place an initiative on the ballot is 383,923 signatures, which must be turned in to the Arizona secretary of state no later than July 3, 2024. 

With more than three months remaining to collect additional signatures, the coalition expects the amendment will be placed on the ballot even if some are invalidated during the verification process.

“We regularly see high enthusiasm for the measure in communities all over Arizona. Voters of all parties tell us they believe people, not the government, should be in charge of their own bodies and health care decisions,” said Dawn Penich, a spokeswoman for Arizona for Abortion Access. 

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“That support is precisely why we’ve been able to collect so many signatures already with more than three months still to go. We have well over 3,000 Arizona voters volunteering collecting signatures all over the state,” Penich added.

NBC News first reported that Arizona for Abortion Access had gathered 506,892 petition signatures. 

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, it ended constitutional protections for abortion rights and returned the issue to the states. In the years since, several states have enacted laws to restrict or ban the procedure, while others have adopted state constitutional amendments to enshrine a woman’s right to end her pregnancy before it comes to term.

Ballot initiatives guaranteeing abortion rights have succeeded even in red states like Kansas and Ohio. Democrats hope that the Arizona initiative and a similar one in Florida will boost their turnout in key swing states and replicate the victories the party won in the 2022 midterm elections after campaigning to protect so-called reproductive rights.

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The constitutional amendment proposed by Arizona for Abortion Access would create a “fundamental right” to obtain an abortion up until fetal viability, around the 24th week of pregnancy. The amendment includes exceptions when a health care professional determines an abortion is necessary to “protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant individual.” 

Pro-life groups argue the mental health exemption is too vague and will allow women to easily obtain permission to abort a viable baby in a late-term pregnancy. 

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“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,” said Cindy Dahlgren, spokeswoman for the It Goes Too Far campaign, which opposes the amendment.

“It’s reckless to give up these critical standards just to expand abortion beyond the current 15 weeks and beyond what most voters support. Nearly 80% of voters support limits on abortion,” Dahlgren said.

Current Arizona law restricts abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy, with a lone exception to save the mother’s life in a medical emergency. 

The Arizona Supreme Court is also reviewing a challenge to an 1864 law, adopted before Arizona became a state, that imposes a near total ban on abortions and makes performing or helping a woman obtain an abortion a felony punishable by two to five years in prison. 

The proposed amendment would invalidate this law and other abortion restrictions enacted in Arizona.

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