Sitting directly in front of the Arizona Pioneer Women Memorial — the only memorial at the state Capitol honoring women — Hobbs added her signature to a petition form for the Arizona Abortion Access Act. The initiative aims to restore the right to abortion in Arizona, which is currently banned beyond 15 weeks unless a patient’s life is in danger. If the act meets the required signature threshold of 383,923, it will head to the November 2024 ballot to be decided by voters.
Hobbs, a vocal proponent of reproductive rights, said the act’s passage is more urgent than ever, as the Arizona Supreme Court is set to hear arguments next month on whether to reinstate a territorial-era law that bans nearly all abortions except for those to save the patient’s life.
“In Arizona we are just one bad court decision away from an 1864 abortion ban that carries prison time for doctors and provides no exception for rape or incest,” Hobbs said during the Tuesday news conference.
The 1864 law, which was briefly in place last year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the protections of Roe v. Wade, includes a mandatory 2 to 5 year prison sentence for doctors who violate its provisions. The conflict over whether that law or one passed in 2022, banning abortions past 15 weeks, should be the law of the land was resolved in December 2022 when the state appeals court ruled that the most recent law should reign supreme. But an appeal from an anti-abortion doctor has revived the case, and abortion advocates are focusing their efforts on the 2024 election to nullify the ongoing court challenge.
“This ballot measure will be decided by the people of Arizona and will ensure that our state remains a place where individual rights are protected and where private health care decisions are made by the individual and their medical providers, and not imposed by the state,” said Rana Lashgari, a registered independent and the owner of lobbying firm Arizona Municipal Strategies, who showed up to support the initiative.
The act forbids the state from adopting any law or policy that inhibits a person’s access to an abortion before fetal viability — generally considered to be around 23 or 24 weeks — unless a “compelling” state interest grounded in evidence and concern for the individual’s “autonomous decision making” power exists. Even abortions beyond the point of fetal viability would be permitted, with the judgment of the patient’s doctor upheld over any restriction. The doctor would have a wide berth to perform an abortion, as long as the procedure is considered necessary to protect the life, physical or mental health of the patient.
Abortion opponents quickly latched onto the post-viability exception baked into the initiative. The Center for Arizona Policy Action said in a statement that the initiative represents nothing more than an extreme “California style” law.
“The vague language would go far beyond what most voters support,” Cathi Herrod, the group's president, said in an emailed statement. “The consequences would put our girls and women at risk because it would remove long-held, commonsense safety standards designed to protect girls and women; it would remove the required medical doctor, leaving girls and women in the hands of unqualified providers, and it would shut moms and dads out of their minor daughter’s abortion decision.”
Nearly two-thirds of Arizonans approve of abortion accessBut supporters tout the measure as nonpartisan and widely approved by Arizonans of all political stripes. A 2022 poll, conducted by the Public Religious Research Institute, found that as much as 62% of Arizonans approve of legalizing abortion access in most cases. And at the national level, just under four in 10 Republicans agreed that abortion should be mostly legal.
“Reproductive freedom is not a partisan issue,” Hobbs said. “It’s about our individual rights, it’s about our health care, it’s about women’s ability to fully participate in our society and our economy.”
“How can a Republican support a petition supporting women’s reproductive rights? (It’s) in line with many core Republican values: individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, personal healthcare decisions,” added Frank Thorwald, a life-long Republican who served as a senior advisor to former President Ronald Reagan.
For women in search of reproductive health care, barriers to medical procedures like abortions represent a dangerous roadblock. Morgan Finkelstein was forced to make a difficult decision when she discovered one of her twins had a critical heart defect that threatened her life and that of her other child’s. But she wasn’t able to receive a selective reduction, which would stop the fetus’s heart in utero, in Arizona, despite it being legal at the time, and had to fly to California to ensure she and her healthy twin would be safe.
“I caught a glimpse firsthand of what happens when abortion is inaccessible and you need one,” she said. “My experience was traumatic, but could have been so much worse had I not been able to access the care that I needed. I’m grateful that I was able to, but I should not have had to leave the state for that care. Nobody should have to do that.”
A spokesperson for the Arizona for Abortion Access campaign said signature gathering efforts have been scaled up since their start in September, and are on track to hit the collection goal by the July 2024 deadline.
This story was first published by Arizona Mirror, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.