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Arizona abortion rights amendment backers says they've gathered signatures needed for 2024 ballot

First to NBC News: Arizona for Abortion Access says it’s exceeded the state petition signature threshold by over 120,000, with plans to keep gathering until a July 3 deadline.
Protesters in Phoenix march around the Arizona state Capitol after the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision on June 24, 2022.
Protesters march at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.Ross D. Franklin / AP file

PHOENIX — Groups working to put reproductive rights in Arizona’s state constitution say they have exceeded the signature threshold to put a constitutional amendment on abortion on the state’s ballot in November.?

Arizona for Abortion Access, a coalition of reproductive rights organizations including the ACLU of Arizona and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, says it had gathered 506,892 petition signatures as of this past weekend, with more than three months to go until the July 3 deadline to submit the signatures to Arizona’s secretary of state. The threshold to put a measure on the ballot is 383,923 signatures, and while some typically get invalidated in the verification process, the amendment appears on track to go before voters this fall.

“This is an issue that people are eager to see on the ballot,” said Cheryl Bruce, the campaign manager for Arizona for Abortion Access. “As our volunteers are out collecting, people are coming up to them, folks are coming up to them and wanting to sign this petition,” said Bruce. “They want to see access to abortion restored in the state of Arizona,” she added.?

Having the issue on the ballot alongside President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump this fall will elevate a key plank in the Democratic platform in a major battleground state. The Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade and putting states in control of abortion policy has been a major part of Democratic campaigns.

Biden won Arizona by 0.3 percentage points four years ago. It is the closest swing state from 2020 that appears likely to have an abortion ballot measure before voters this fall. On Monday, Florida’s state Supreme Court approved a similar November ballot measure there, while also upholding the state’s current limits on abortion. Trump won Florida by 3.4 points in 2020.

The constitutional amendment that Arizona for Abortion Access is putting forward would create a “fundamental right” to receive abortion care up until fetal viability, or about the 24th week of pregnancy, with exceptions after that point if a health care professional decides it’s needed to “protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant individual.” Opponents of the measure have focused on the potentially broad application of the mental health exception, arguing that it would make it far too easy to end viable pregnancies.Under current Arizona law, abortion is legal up until the 15th week of pregnancy, with an exception after that to save the mother’s life and no exceptions after that point for rape or incest.

Cindy Dahlgren, a spokesperson for the It Goes Too Far campaign opposing the Arizona ballot measure, blasted the proposed amendment as overly broad in a statement that could be a preview of the messaging ahead of this fall's election.

"Unfortunately, most voters are not told that under the unregulated, unlimited abortion amendment they will lose the required medical doctor, critical and common sense safety standards for girls and women seeking abortion, and moms and dads will be shut out of their minor daughter’s abortion decision, leaving her to go through the painful and scary process alone," Dahlgren said.

Also looming over the abortion ballot battle is a state Supreme Court decision, which could drop at any moment, over an 1864 abortion ban that’s still on the books. That law has not been in effect since before Roe v. Wade, but it made performing or helping a woman obtain abortion care a felony punishable by two to five years in prison.

The uncertainty surrounding abortion rights in the state has led to an influx of volunteers donating their time and energy to Arizona for Abortion Access to gather signatures. Chris Love, a spokeswoman for the campaign, says the group has assembled over 3,000 volunteers.

One of those volunteers is Toby Urvater, a 62-year-old retiree who’s spending her free time gathering signatures outside small businesses in downtown Phoenix.

“I became a notary specifically for this referendum,” said Urvater, a Phoenix native. “I have grown up with Roe v. Wade,” she said. “It feels devastating to know that people across the country in some states do not have that choice anymore.”?

Deborah Nye, 75, is another volunteer gathering signatures for Arizona for Abortion Access. She got pregnant in high school, pre-Roe v. Wade, and made the difficult decision to have an illegal abortion at the time.?

“I ended up having an illegal abortion, I risked my life to do that. And I think it’s really sad that anybody should be put in that situation,” said Nye, recalling her teenage experience.?

Nye, a mother, says the thought of her daughter losing the right to have an abortion is what fuels her to gather more signatures.?

“My daughter is always in my mind when I’m doing this because she’s in her reproductive years right now. And I would never want her to be in the situation that I was in as a young woman,” Nye said.

While the organization isn’t stopping at half a million signatures, opponents of abortion rights tell NBC News that they have lawyers on retainer ready to scrutinize each and every signature Arizona For Abortion Access turns in.?

“Our goal is still 800,000,” Bruce said of her organization’s aim to more than double the number of valid signatures required to be turned in come July, adding: “All of our circulators are highly trained … and are all being very diligent in the way in which they are collecting signatures to make sure that we are well prepared to withstand any legal challenge the opposition plans to throw our way.”

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