Organizers Say Abortion Access Is Headed to the Ballot in 3 More States

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Abortions rights supporters in three states this week said they had secured enough signatures to put measures on the November ballot that would enshrine some abortion access in their state constitutions.

Organizers in Arkansas on Friday became the final group this election year to say they had submitted enough signatures to put the question to voters, just days after groups in Arizona and Nebraska said they met their own deadlines.

In all three states, officials still have to verify the signatures and certify the ballot initiatives.

As many as 11 states — including presidential battlegrounds such as Arizona — could potentially have abortion rights on the ballot this November, giving Democrats and the Biden presidential campaign what they hope will be a potent political weapon.

In every state where the question has been put directly to voters since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the abortion rights side has won, and the measures have sometimes fueled surges in turnout that have lifted Democratic candidates to victory.

So far, six states — Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New York, Maryland and South Dakota — have given final approval to having abortion on the ballot this November.

Of all the states putting the question to voters this year, however, Arkansas may present the most difficult challenge for the abortion rights side. With a large evangelical population, it is a deeply conservative state, and one of just a few where a minority of voters support abortion access. It is not considered competitive for either the presidential or congressional races.

Arkansas also has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, allowing the procedure only to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency. As a result, there were no reported abortions in the state in 2023, according to the state Health Department.

The group leading the referendum effort, Arkansans for Limited Government, has tried to balance its push to broaden existing law with the state’s conservative stance. Its proposed amendment would allow abortion access only up to 18 weeks after fertilization, with exceptions for rape, incest and instances where the fetus would not survive outside the womb. The organizers’ relatively conservative approach — most of this year’s measures are seeking abortion access up to 24 weeks — meant that some national abortion rights groups did not openly endorse their work.

In Arizona, current law allows for abortions up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, but does not include an exception for rape or incest. The amendment would allow for abortions up to around 24 weeks and additional exceptions for the mother’s health. And in Nebraska, organizers said they secured enough support for two competing proposals: one to cement the state’s existing 12-week ban and another to expand abortion access until after viability.

To secure enough signatures in Arkansas, groups targeted not only women angry about the loss of the constitutional right to an abortion, but also libertarians and centrists wary of government overreach. Those gathering signatures included a number of doctors worried about legal ambiguity around when abortions can be performed.

“Despite the stereotype or what the voting history of our state may portend, we have long been confident that Arkansans understand the government has no place making health care decisions for its people,” said Lauren Cowles, the group’s executive director. “Our signature collection efforts demonstrated — and November’s election will solidify — that securing the right to abortion access is an issue that transcends party politics, economics, and religion.”

As in other states, the secretary of state now must formally certify the results. Organizers in Arkansas were required to not only collect a mandatory 90,704 signatures, but also to meet a certain minimum in at least 50 of the state’s 75 counties. The group said it had collected more than 100,000 signatures across at least 53 counties, and would drop off its petitions Friday afternoon.

The secretary of state’s office has 30 days to verify the petition, and a deadline of Aug. 22 to certify all ballot questions and candidates for November.

If the secretary of state was to find that there were not enough signatures because some were invalid, the group might have additional time to make up the difference.

Legal challenges are possible. Opponents of the effort — including former aides to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders — and anti-abortion groups have already begun to mobilize.

Some abortion rights organizers in Arkansas said they had faced intimidation and harassment. And some voters had refused to sign the petition, fearing personal or professional retaliation if the list of signees became public.

Arkansas is the only state in the South that allows citizen-initiated questions to be put to voters. In recent years, such measures allowed for Arkansas’s minimum wage to rise above the national average and for the legalization of medical marijuana.



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