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Initiative to add abortion rights to Az Constitution fails to gather enough signatures
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Initiative to add abortion rights to Az Constitution fails to gather enough signatures

Organizers pledge to put reproductive rights measure on 2024 ballot; Az officials may enforce 1864 ban on nearly all abortions

  • Shaq McCoy, one of the co-founders of Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom, works to collect signatures on Wednesday evening.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comShaq McCoy, one of the co-founders of Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom, works to collect signatures on Wednesday evening.

An effort to amend Arizona's Constitution to guarantee abortion rights fell well short of the 356,000 signatures required to add the measure to November's ballot, organizers said Thursday.

The push only gathered petitions with about half the number of signatures from Arizona voters necessary to put the initiative to voters this year.

Organizers said that while the initiative effort failed for 2022, they would press on to get enough signatures to have the measure added for the November 2024 election.

The effort falling short means that Arizona officials may attempt to enforce a Civil War-era law that outlaws nearly all abortions in the state.

The initiative backers, Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom, launched their effort to collect thousands of signatures in May after a leak from the U.S. Supreme Court showed the justices were likely to strike down Roe v. Wade—the landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed federal constitutional protections for abortion rights, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 decision that reiterated the right.

With just 61 days to get petitions signed before the Thursday's deadline, organizers said they collected more than 175,000 signatures—or a "average of 2,700 signatures per day."

The effort was buoyed on June 24, when the Supreme Court justices—led by Justice Samuel Alito—published their opinion ruling in favor of Mississippi in a case about abortion rights. While Chief Justice John Roberts attempted to rein in the court, limiting the decision to merely uphold Mississippi's law limiting abortion rights, Alito and the rest of the conservative bloc went even further, ruling that Roe v. Wade and Casey were wrongly decided.

And, even as Justice Brett Kavanaugh tried to limit the decision's effect on a series of other cases based around the constitutional right to privacy, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion the court should consider challenges to those cases as well, putting not only the right to contraception on the table, but also the right to engage in consensual sexual acts, and gay marriage.

The court's decision prompted a massive outcry as thousands of people in Tucson protested in front of the U.S. District Courthouse that evening. 

Organizers said 3,000 volunteers "braved the summer heat " to help collect a "record numbers of signatures shortly after the campaign filed," and this was helped by what they called  and a " mass mobilization after the final Dobbs decision on June 24th."

"Since the decision, interest in the campaign exploded, with hundreds of thousands of visits to the website and more than 100 locally-owned businesses across Arizona assisting in the effort," organizers wrote.

Following the court's ruling, 26 states, including Arizona, will likely seek to block abortions.

In March, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill into law that made it illegal for a woman to have an abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even if the patient was a victim of incest or rape. The new law is supposed to take effect in September.

However in the meantime, state Attorney General Mark Brnovich attempted to lift his faltering Senate campaign by arguing that an 158-year-old statute that outlaws all abortions — written when Arizona was still a territory, but still on the books — was still enforceable and women or health care providers could face legal action. That law, which was passed in 1864 and then recodified in 1901, only allows for abortions if the life of the mother is threatened.

"Over the past few weeks, I have been consistently awed by the passion and enthusiasm of people to get involved. This is the largest volunteer-driven ballot measure campaign in the history of our state - and we are only just beginning," said Dr Victoria Fewell, a Tucson-based OB-GYN and chair of Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom. "This may have started from a moment, but it is growing into a lasting statewide movement."

"I’ve been overwhelmed, yet grateful by the thousands of volunteers, from all lived experiences we’ve had through this movement," said Shaq McCoy, one of the co-founders of the group. “It is because of them that Arizonans will soon have a choice on bodily autonomy."

McCoy was still encouraging people to add their names to petitions into the evening Wednesday, sitting at a table at Espresso Art near the University of Arizona campus to collect last-minute signatures.

While Arizona voters will not have the chance to vote for the constitutional amendment in November, a similar campaign in Michigan qualified for November's ballot, after organizers managed to collect 800,000 signatures after two years of effort.

"I am confident that we will succeed in bringing this to voters in 2024," said Shasta McManus, the group's treasurer. "This campaign will not stop until abortions are once again legal and accessible across Arizona." McManus noted Brnovich's decision, writing Arizona is now "operating under a law written when the Civil War was still raging and Arizona was not yet a state."

"This is barbaric and unacceptable and underlines the urgency of this movement," she said.

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