Jun 23, 2023 - Politics

Abortion rights advocates eye possible ballot measure for 2024

Illustration of a judge wearing a stethoscope

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The one-year anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade is Saturday, and the state of abortion rights is in flux locally and across the country.

  • With the high court's protections eliminated, advocates are looking to take matters to the ballot box in Arizona.

Driving the news: Plans are underway for a potential 2024 ballot measure in Arizona that would ensure a woman's right to an abortion, though most of the details are still hazy.

  • Bré Thomas, CEO of the reproductive and sexual health nonprofit Affirm, told reporters during a press conference Thursday the group that's planning the measure is still looking at possibly polling and other information, and that language hasn't been finalized.
  • "We know that there is a lot of energy and interest in making this happen in 2024, and so it is our intention as we continue to explore to potentially pursue something next year. But we have to see what the research tells us," Brittany Fonteno, CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, told reporters during a Zoom call later in the day.
  • Gov. Katie Hobbs, who spoke at the press conference with Thomas, said, "We've certainly been at the table with folks that are looking at a ballot measure."

Between the lines: The group estimates it will need $40 million to $50 million for a successful ballot measure, some of which has been raised already, Thomas said.

  • Fonteno noted that GOP lawmakers have made it more difficult in recent years to get citizen initiatives on the ballot.
  • Organizers will need to collect at least 255,949 signatures for a measure that would amend state statute, or 383,923 for a proposed amendment to the Arizona Constitution.
  • The effort will be "a locally led initiative by Arizonans for Arizonans," but there are many people nationally interested in pushing an abortion rights initiative here as well, Fonteno said.

State of play: Following last year's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, providers stopped performing abortions in Arizona due to concerns they could be prosecuted under a near-total ban that's been on the books since before statehood.

  • After litigation, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that doctors who performed abortions couldn't be prosecuted under the territorial-era ban, allowing the Legislature's 2022 ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy to be enforced.
  • But 15 weeks isn't enough, Fonteno said, because while the vast majority of abortions are in the first trimester, there are reasons why someone might seek one later.
  • Jill Gibson, Planned Parenthood Arizona's medical director, said the organization refers multiple patients who need abortions after the cutoff date each week to providers in California.

What's next: Planned Parenthood is currently providing abortions at its locations in Glendale and Tucson and plans to resume those services later this year at its Tempe location, which is being renovated.

  • Fonteno said the organization will also launch a mobile health unit this year that will be able to provide abortion services in communities where it doesn't have brick-and-mortar facilities.
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