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Activists file initiative to add abortion rights to Arizona Constitution

Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom starts push for amendment in wake of leak about Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade

A group of abortion rights activists filed an initiative to amend the Arizona Constitution to add a "fundamental right to reproductive freedom." They'll need at least 356,000 signatures by July 7 to get the measure on the ballot.

The amendment would add the "right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy" to the state Constitution, including abortion and contraception.

The mesaure would have to be approved by a majority of Arizona voters. The constitutional amendment initiative was filed late Monday. Petitions with a minimum of 356,467 valid signatures must be returned to state officials in the next 51 days, in order for it to be put to voters at the November general election.

"We already know that the Supreme Court intends to overturn Roe v. Wade in just a few short weeks. Without Roe, an Arizona law from 1864 will again take effect to criminalize abortion," organizers said. "All voluntary abortions in Arizona would be banned and criminalized. No exceptions."

The measure is being backed by Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom, a group chaired by Dr. Victoria Fewell, a Tucson obstetrician-gynecologist, with longtime Tucson Democratic activist Shasta McManus as treasurer.

"GOP state legislators will cut off access to abortions in Arizona in the coming session when Roe is overturned," Fewell said in a statement provided to the Tucson Sentinel. "They are out of sync with the vast majority of Arizonans who believe that the decision to carry a pregnancy to term belongs to individuals, not the state. This constitutional amendment will also proactively protect access to lifesaving reproductive healthcare and ensure medical providers will not risk imprisonment for treating their patients."

The amendment details the "right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy" as covering prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management and infertility care.

The amendment would bar Arizona from restricting the right to an abortion before a fetus is viable, according to a medical professional's "good-faith judgment," and would allow for an medical or surgical abortion at any time if the "health or safety of the individual is at risk."

Organizers have indicated that they plan both an extensive volunteer signature-gathering effort, but also a significant push by paid petition circulators, acknowledging that the effort "is going to take thousands of hours in the Arizona heat."

Organizers did not immediately provide information to the Tucson Sentinel about how much they plan to raise to support the initial phase of getting the amendment on the ballot.

The timeline means that organizers will need to gather at least 7,000 signatures each day, on average. To have a cushion and ensure that enough signatures are valid when they are verified by election officials, even more signatures will be necessary.

While political candidates are able to collect nominating signatures online via a state system, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that initiatives must be supported by petitions signed in person, on paper.

The push to add a right to abortion and other reproductive health care to the state Constitution comes in the wake of a leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Politico published a draft of an opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito, which would strike down the 1973 decision that guaranteed federal constitutional protections for abortion rights, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 decision that reiterated the right.

"Approximately 1 in 4 women will require an abortion in their lifetime," McManus told the Sentinel. "The overturning of Roe v. Wade and the implementation of these barbaric bans will do nothing to change these statistics. The effects, however, will increase the already outrageous maternal mortality rates and irreversibly impact those who are already struggling financially, women in the workforce, and our Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. This is about the freedom to choose your own reproductive fate and that is a private decision between a person and their doctor… not the government."

In addition to the Arizona territorial law that remains on the books, Republicans in the state have enacted more recent restrictions on abortion. At the end of March, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law banning abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, even in the case of rape or incest.

The legislation, which will go into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends, was modeled after the Mississippi law at issue before the Supreme Court. Under Senate Bill 1164, doctors would be prohibited from performing the procedure, even if the patient was a victim of incest or rape. Doctors in violation face a class 6 felony and revoked license. A class 6 felony comes with fines, probation and possible prison time between months and up to 5 years.

“In Arizona, we know there is immeasurable value in every life — including preborn life. I believe it is each state’s responsibility to protect them,” Ducey wrote in a signing letter.

Ducey noted the new law doesn’t ban all abortions, just those done after 15 weeks. But if a victim finds out about a pregnancy afterward that time, they’re left without recourse. Ducey said few abortions happen after 15 weeks, so that argument didn’t persuade him. 

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“I think if you would look at the statistics on what is already happening in our country, you’d find that this is a very reasonable policy,” he said. 

While supporters have championed the measure as in defense of children, opponents argue it actually places undue burden on women. 

“Banning abortion will do NOTHING to protect babies, but everything to strip Arizonans of their bodily autonomy & self-determination,” tweeted Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe.

Critics say the 15-week ban is out of step with the opinions of Arizonans and medical professionals. 

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which advocates for reproductive freedom, denounced Ducey’s approval and said it ignores the varied medical situations women could face. 

“Medical professionals in Arizona are against this ban. Nobody asked for this. But Arizona politicians — including the governor today — are willfully ignoring both public opinion and science with the sole goal of stripping constituents of their constitutional rights,” said President Alexis McGill Johnson in a statement. 

NARAL Pro Choice America, an abortion rights group, said the ban is incongruent with the actual opinions of Arizonans statewide, citing a survey which found 71% of respondents oppose making abortion illegal, and 90% agree that family planning should be left up to individuals, without government interference.

SCOTUS rightwingers look to toss U.S. constitutional right

In the leaked draft opinion, Alito argued that Roe v. Wade "was egregiously wrong from the start," Politico reported. "We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled," Alito wrote in a document that was labeled as the "opinion of the court."

"It is time to heed to the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives," he wrote.

The original decision was based on a lawsuit in Texas, when a woman—Norma McCorvey, who filed her lawsuit as Jane Roe to protect herself—sued Henry Wade, the district attorney in Dallas County, challenging the state's law that made abortion illegal.

In Roe, the high court ruled 7-2 that abortion was protected under a fundamental right to privacy under the 14th Amendment, and the Due Process Clause.

Initiative text

A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

AMENDING ARTICLE II OF THE CONSTITUTION BY ADDING SECTION 12.1; RELATING TO REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM.

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Arizona:

Section 1. Article II, Constitution of Arizona is amended by adding Section 12.1, as follows:

SECTION 12.1. RIGHT TO REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM

A. EVERY INDIVIDUAL HAS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM, WHICH ENTAILS THE RIGHT TO MAKE AND EFFECTUATE DECISIONS ABOUT ALL MATTERS RELATING TO PREGNANCY, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO PRENATAL CARE, CHILDBIRTH, POSTPARTUM CARE, CONTRACEPTION, STERILIZATION, ABORTION CARE, MISCARRIAGE MANAGEMENT, AND INFERTILITY CARE.

B. NEITHER THE STATE NOR ANY POLITICAL SUBDIVISION SHALL RESTRICT, PENALIZE, FRUSTRATE OR OTHERWISE INTERFERE WITH THE EXERCISE OF THE RIGHT TO REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM, INCLUDING: ANY INDIVIDUAL’S ACCESS TO CONTRACEPTION; PRE-VIABILITY MEDICAL AND SURGICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY; OR MEDICAL AND SURGICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY IF THE HEALTH OR SAFETY OF THE INDIVIDUAL IS AT RISK.

C. NEITHER THE STATE NOR ANY POLITICAL SUBDIVISION SHALL RESTRICT, PENALIZE, FRUSTRATE OR OTHERWISE INTERFERE WITH A QUALIFIED, LICENSED HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL PROVIDING MEDICAL SERVICES OR ANY PERSON PROVIDING NON-MEDICAL SERVICES NECESSARY FOR THE EXERCISE OF THE RIGHT TO REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM.

D. THE TERM ‘‘VIABILITY’’ MEANS THE POINT IN A PREGNANCY AT WHICH, IN THE GOOD-FAITH MEDICAL JUDGMENT OF A QUALIFIED, LICENSED HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL, BASED ON THE PARTICULAR FACTS OF THE CASE BEFORE THE HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL, THERE IS A REASONABLE LIKELIHOOD OF SUSTAINED FETAL SURVIVAL OUTSIDE THE UTERUS WITH OR WITHOUT ARTIFICIAL SUPPORT.

Editor’s note: Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom’s treasurer is Shasta McManus, who is a member of Tucson Sentinel’s Community Advisory Council. McManus played no role in reporting this story. Gloria Gomez, the 2022 UA School of Journalism’s Don Bolles Fellow, contributed background reporting to this story.


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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Hundreds of people protested the potential end of Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the U.S., in Downtown Tucson on May 3.

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