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Abortion measures could be on Arizona and Nebraska ballots after organizers submit signatures

Measures that would explicitly enshrine abortion rights are already on the ballots in five states, and voters in a sixth will consider one that supporters say would also protect the right.
Abortion Referendums
Posted at 5:15 AM, Jul 04, 2024

Organizers in Arizona and Nebraska said Wednesday that they turned in far more signatures than required to get ballot measures on abortion rights before voters in November's election.

In Nebraska, there could be two competing questions. One, like the Arizona proposal, would add a right to abortion to the state constitution. The other would enshrine Nebraska's current ban on most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In both states, it’s now up to election officials to certify the signatures before they’re added to ballots.

Democrats have made abortion rights a central message since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 and it is a key part of their efforts in this year’s elections. Activists in Arkansas are still pushing to meet Friday’s deadline to make the ballot there.

In five other states, the issue already is set to go before voters this year: Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Nevada and South Dakota. New York also has a measure that advocates say would protect abortion access.

Related story: Citizens in half of states can't force ballot measures on abortion

Arizona organizers say they submitted 823,685 signatures, far above the 383,923 required from registered voters. County election officials have until Aug. 22 to verify whether enough of the petition signatures are valid and provide results to the Arizona secretary of state’s office.

Arizona currently has a 15-week abortion ban. The proposed amendment would allow abortions until a fetus could survive outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks, with exceptions to save the mother’s life or to protect her physical or mental health. It would restrict the state from adopting or enforcing any law that would prohibit access to the procedure.

Opponents say it goes too far and could lead to unlimited and unregulated abortions in Arizona. Supporters say a change in the state’s constitution is necessary to ensure that abortion rights cannot be easily erased by a court decision or legislative vote.

Arizona for Abortion Access, a coalition that includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and Planned Parenthood of Arizona, turned in 300 boxes of signed petitions to the secretary of state’s office, where extra security has been added.

“We don’t talk about specific threats, but we have been operating under some serious threat profiles — generally speaking — for the last several weeks,” Secretary of State Adrian Fontes told reporters. “In an abundance of caution, we just wanted to make sure that the voters’ signatures are safe."

Arizona for Abortion Access spokesperson Dawn Penich said it was the most signatures ever submitted for a citizens initiative in state history.

“That was our goal from the get-go,” Penich said. “We started collecting signatures in September and October 2023 and saw how passionate people are about this issue.”

In April, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a 1864 abortion ban that permitted abortions only to save the mother’s life and provided no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest, but the Republican-controlled Legislature voted for a repeal of the Civil War-era ban, and Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs quickly signed. The 19th century law had been blocked since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that eliminated constitutional protections for abortion.

The current 15-week ban was signed into law in 2022 and includes exceptions in cases of medical emergencies and has restrictions on medication abortion. It also requires an ultrasound before an abortion is done, as well as parental consent for minors.

Related story: Supreme Court allows abortion drug mifepristone to remain widely available in US

In Nebraska, officials with Protect Our Rights said they turned in 207,000 signatures in their effort to enshrine abortion rights. Organizers of SBA Pro-Life America’s competing petition effort said they submitted more than 205,000 signatures.

The state requires more than 123,000 valid signatures — or 10% of registered voters in the state — to qualify for the ballot. There's also a requirement that signatures come in sufficient numbers from several counties in the largely rural state.

It looks like a third measure won't make the ballot. That one would ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy by deeming embryos as people. An organizer of that effort did not return a call from The Associated Press, and there was no announcement about gathering enough signatures by Wednesday's deadline.

Supporters of an Arkansas proposal to scale back the state’s abortion ban face a Friday deadline to submit petitions to qualify for the November ballot. The group behind the measure, Arkansans for Limited Government, said on Facebook and Instagram on Tuesday that it still needed about 5,800 signatures out of the 90,704 required.

The proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit the state from banning abortion within the first 18 weeks of pregnancy. It includes exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies and to protect the mother's life. It would also exempt abortions performed to protect the pregnant woman from a physical disorder, physical illness or physical injury.

Arkansas' current ban exempts abortions only to protect the woman's life in a medical emergency.