Abortion foes launch campaign against ballot initiative, spread misinformation

Opponents of the initiative to make abortion access a right in Arizona have launched a campaign against it, using alarmist language and hyperbolic claims to turn Arizona voters away. 

On Wednesday, the It Goes Too Far campaign officially announced its plans to counter the Arizona Abortion Access Act and launched a website aimed at persuading Arizonans not to add their names to the initiative, which is still gathering signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot. 

But they’ll have their work cut out for them: Backers of the Arizona Abortion Access Act announced Thursday that they’ve already collected 250,000 of the 383,923 signatures they need to qualify for the 2024 ballot. They’ve done so in just four months, and have nearly six months left to continue gathering signatures. 

Initiative organizers typically seek to collect far above the requirement threshold, to ensure a buffer against signatures that are thrown out during the verification process.

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Currently, Arizona is under a gestational ban that prohibits doctors from providing elective abortions beyond 15 weeks unless the patient is in life-threatening danger. There is no exception for rape or incest, and providers face a class 6 felony if they violate the law’s provisions. 

Arizona also has a near-total ban still on the books from 1864, which punishes doctors with a mandatory prison sentence of up to five years if an abortion was provided for any reason other than saving the patient’s life. The Arizona Supreme Court heard arguments in December on whether to reinstate the 160-year-old law but has yet to issue its ruling. 

Political Director Olivia Escobedo told the Arizona Mirror that It Goes Too Far is committed to ensuring the abortion act doesn’t make it onto the 2024 ballot. Escobedo refused to share the campaign’s strategy or name the coalition members behind it. 

“The goal of It Goes Too Far is to stop a constitutional amendment that puts the health and safety of girls and women at risk, just in an effort to expand abortion beyond what most voters support,” she said.

A February 2023 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, estimated that as many as 62% of Arizonans agree that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. 

The Arizona Abortion Access Act would protect access to the procedure up to the point of fetal viability — generally regarded to be around 23 or 24 weeks — and invalidate any state law or policy seeking to restrict or deny a person’s ability to receive abortion care. It also includes a provision that allows for abortions beyond the point of fetal viability if a health care professional deems it necessary to protect the patient’s life or mental well-being. 

It Goes Too Far’s website claims that enshrining abortion access in the Arizona Constitution will result in detrimental health care results for women because the state will be prevented from enacting important safety measures. 

“Language stating “the state shall not enact, adopt or enforce any law, regulations, policy, or practice that…restricts or interferes with an abortion]” would lead to the elimination of most safety precautions under the argument that they “interfere” or “regulate” abortion,” reads the website. 

But the Arizona Abortion Access Act explicitly includes an exception for laws and policies that advance a “compelling state interest”, defined, in part, as something that improves or maintains the patient’s health. 

The website also claims that the act will eventually force taxpayers to fund abortions, simply by enshrining it as a right to be protected. 

“Failure to fund abortion would likely be interpreted as improper ‘interference’ with the new ‘fundamental right to abortion,’” reads the website. 

Chris Love, an executive committee member for the Arizona for Abortion Access campaign, dismissed the claims being circulated by It Goes Too Far as intentional misinformation. 

“It Goes Too Far is not a campaign to protect Arizonans,” she said. “It’s a campaign that is already lying to voters in order to deny Arizonans their reproductive freedom. They’re using the same tired playbook of voter intimidation and confusion that we saw fail across the country, and Arizonans will see right through it.”

Love, who also serves as a senior advisor to Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, clarified that the act would only safeguard access to abortion care, stopping undue interference from local government officials. In the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, state lawmakers have been empowered to restrict or protect reproductive health care — and in Arizona, where Republicans hold a legislative majority, restrictions have ruled. 

“Let’s get the facts straight: The Arizona for Abortion Act would ensure that people have the freedom to decide what is best for their own bodies and lives,” Love said. “The amendment would protect abortion access in our state and keep it regulated the same way as any other medical care.”

At the act’s signature gathering kick-off in September, Love told reporters the campaign would focus on convincing voters and not on fending off messaging from opponents. And, based on the success of similar abortion act campaigns in other states, it’s likely that the Arizona effort won’t be too hindered by the anti-abortion movement. In Kansas and Ohio, abortion rights efforts handily outraised opponents, attracting funding from across the country and special interest groups as well as from in-state donors.

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