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A next big ballot fight over abortion could come to Arizona

State abortion initiatives have proved to be major voter mobilizers since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in 2022.
Roberto Machado Noa
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State abortion initiatives have proved to be major voter mobilizers since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in 2022.

PHOENIX — Strategists on both sides of the abortion debate are gearing up to make Arizona the next center of the fight over the contentious issue.

The efforts in the swing state could have big impacts on other contests on the 2024 ballot, including a key U.S. Senate election, control of the U.S. House and the race for the White House. President Biden won the state by just 10,000 votes out of more than 3 million cast in 2020, the first time the state voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.

Abortion initiatives have proved to be major voter mobilizers since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in 2022. Voters in a politically diverse group of states like Ohio, Montana, Kentucky and Michigan turned out in 2022 and 2023 elections to vote down efforts that would limit abortion and pass measures that protect increased access.

Democrats have seen those results and are pushing additional abortion measures — particularly in swing states — in part to drive turnout to help their candidates up and down the ballot. Arizona is one of several states,including Colorado, Florida and New York, where abortion rights advocates are looking to put ballot measures forward.

"Voters are energized to vote for their right, to vote for their freedoms, and they know that we need to have Democratic pro-choice leaders up and down the ballot," said Danni Wang, a spokesperson for Emily's List, a pro-abortion rights group. "That's why we have to flip the House and defend the White House and Senate to restore federal reproductive rights once and for all. And specifically, this path runs straight through Arizona."

The state currently bans the procedure after 15 weeks, a law that went into effect after the fall of Roe v. Wade. But the state supreme court will determine if the current law gets overridden by one that predates the state's existence. An 1864 law, which is still on the books, would impose a near-complete ban on abortions with almost no exceptions.

But while the two dueling laws are being debated in court, a separate effort is underway to place a ballot initiative in front of voters in November 2024.

Abortion access advocates have begun the process of collecting 384,000 signatures needed to make the 2024 ballot. If successful, voters would be able to vote to enact a state constitutional right to abortion. The initiative would also allow abortions until "fetal viability," an open-ended term to be determined by physicians, but is generally about 24 weeks into pregnancy. The measure would override anything the state supreme court decides.

"Regardless of what happens with the case, our ballot initiative will move forward. And I think that's the point, right?" said Chris Love, a senior adviser for Planned Parenthood of Arizona, one of the groups behind the initiative. "Our courts shouldn't be deciding any of these things. These decisions should be between a pregnant person and their trusted medical provider."

Love said organizers are on track to secure 800,000 signatures by their deadline in July, double the amount required.

Now-Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks at a Women's March rally in support of midterm candidates who support abortion rights outside the state capitol in Phoenix on Oct. 8, 2022.
Mario Tama / Getty Images
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Now-Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks at a Women's March rally in support of midterm candidates who support abortion rights outside the state capitol in Phoenix on Oct. 8, 2022.

Arizona voters in 2022 credited the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a factor in why they decided to vote, according to exit polling from the Associated Press.

Still, groups looking to limit access to the reproductive service are hoping to block the ballot efforts.

Students for Life of America launched a TV and digital ad campaign in six states, including Arizona, specifically targeting younger voters. Kristan Hawkins, the organization's executive director, said it also plans to increase its presence on Arizona college campuses and mobilize young voters against the efforts.

"It is not a lost cause in talking to young people about abortion," Hawkins said. "These young people can be reached and they can vote pro-life, but we have to speak to them and be real about what's really at stake."

Their message in Arizona is that the ballot initiative goes too far. And they want Republican-led efforts to try harder to win over younger voters with this message in states where abortion is on the ballot. A recent youth voter poll from Tufts Universityfound that restricting abortion is a mobilizer for young conservatives. Still, according to the Harvard Youth poll, a majority of young voters generally favor abortion protections.

"Far too often Republican pundits, and even Republican campaigns, they just fail to reach out to this demographic thinking that it's a lost cause," Hawkins said, adding that it's important to remember Biden only won the state by a few thousand votes. "By winning a couple more percentage points of young people — that can shift an entire election."

Progressive organizers are also hoping the conversation around abortion mobilizes voters to turn out in greater numbers.

"All roads to the presidency come through Arizona. People will come to vote for these highly contested races but I think our issue highly transcends all of that," Planned Parenthood's Love said, adding that she believes support for abortion access transcends party lines. "We are counting on our folks who are mad as hell about what's happening to show up for our issue regardless of who else or what else is on the ballot."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.
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