Arizona Republican lawmakers consider ballot strategy to counter abortion rights initiative

Apr 16, 2024, 1:00 PM | Updated: 1:03 pm

A view of the copper dome atop the Arizona Capitol. Arizona Republican lawmakers are considering a ...

Arizona Republican lawmakers are considering a ballot strategy to counter the Arizona Abortion Access Act. (KTAR News File Photo)

(KTAR News File Photo)

PHOENIX – Arizona Republican lawmakers are considering a ballot-flooding strategy as a way to defeat a voter initiative that would essentially restore the state’s abortion rights to the standards of Roe v. Wade.

The plan was laid out in a PowerPoint presentation obtained recently by NBC News.

“Changes narrative – Republicans have a plan! And it’s much more reasonable than the AAA Initiative,” the summary panel of the slideshow says, referring to the proposed Arizona Abortion Access Act.

Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma confirmed the authenticity of the material.

“The document presents ideas drafted for internal discussion and consideration within the caucus,” Toma said in a statement Monday after KTAR News 92.3 FM asked for his response to the NBC report. “I’ve publicly stated that we are looking at options to address this subject, and this is simply part of that.”

What do abortion rights advocates say about Republican strategy?

Abortion rights advocates reacted to the plan by accusing Republicans of trying to confuse voters.

“When anti-abortion Republicans in the Legislature can’t get their way, they lie and cheat — and that’s exactly what they’re trying to do here,” Athena Salman, who resigned from the Arizona House at the end of 2023 to become director of Arizona campaigns for Reproductive Freedom For All, said in a statement.

“They know that the vast majority of Arizonans want to secure the right to abortion in the state constitution, so they are trying to confuse them with another ballot measure in order to keep one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country on the books.”

Republicans have been looking for ways to make most abortions illegal in Arizona, or impose strict restrictions on when they could be performed, in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision last week that upheld a near-total ban that originated in a law from 1864.

“It was hoped that it was going to happen by pro-lifers, myself included,” Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen told KTAR’s The Mike Broomhead Show after the ruling was issued. “We were looking forward to a day where we could protect life.”

What is the current abortion law in Arizona?

The ruling can’t go into effect until 60 days after it was issued, although the time could be extended in the event of further legal action. For now, Arizona is subject to a state law passed in 2022 that only allows abortions in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy or when the mother is at risk of death or serious permanent injury.

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, told The Mike Broomhead Show last week she was exploring legal paths to preventing the near-total abortion ban from going into effect.

Some abortion opponents are concerned the high court ruling could influence voters to choose the Arizona Abortion Access Act over the 1864 near-total ban if those are their only choices. The AAA is a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ensures abortion rights until a fetus could survive outside the womb.

Arizona for Abortion Access, the group behind the AAA, said earlier this month it had collected 500,000 signatures and counting. The measure needs 383,923 valid signatures by the July 3 filing deadline to make it onto the Nov. 5 ballot.

What does Republican PowerPoint presentation propose?

The GOP PowerPoint presentation lays out the possibility of the Arizona Legislature putting multiple proposals that conflict with the AAA on the ballot.

Arizona lawmakers can refer a measure to the ballot by passing a resolution that doesn’t require the governor’s signature, but they can’t undo a referendum after it gets voter approval. Republicans control both chambers by a narrow margin.

The PowerPoint presentation describes two phases, one labeled as “Refer reasonable protections to voters” and another with the heading “Send voters two other options that conflict with AAA Initiative.”

The first phase would codify “widely supported protections/restrictions on abortion,” according to the document, without including pregnancy timeline restrictions. Proposed language includes a ban on partial-birth abortions and the sale of aborted fetuses and prevents physicians from performing abortions on minors without guardian consent or a court order.

“Plan A could potentially pull votes from AAA Initiative,” the presentation says, noting that voters would see the proposal on the ballot first if the Legislature gets it to the Secretary of State’s Office before Arizona for Abortion Access submits its signatures.

Extra ballot options could split vote on abortion proposals

The second phase proposes two time-based restrictions: the 15-week Reproductive Care and Abortion Act and the Heartbeat Protection Act.

The presentation says that the proposed options could dilute votes, making it “more likely that the AAA Initiative will fail if vote is split.”

The “15-week” proposal is actually a 14-week ban “because it would only allow abortion until the beginning of the 15th week,” according to the presentation.

The Heartbeat Protection Act would be a five-week ban, allowing abortions up to the start of the sixth week of pregnancy, which is sooner than many women even know they are pregnant.

Both ballot proposals in the second phase include exceptions for when the mother is at risk of death or serious permanent injury, or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. The five-week ban adds an exception for pregnancies that result from rape, incest or human trafficking if the abortion is done before the 14th week.

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Arizona Republican lawmakers consider ballot strategy to counter abortion rights initiative