Leaked documents detail House GOP strategy to send competing abortion measures to the 2024 ballot

Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives are mulling several possible abortion proposals to send to the ballot this November to compete with an abortion rights initiative. 

And while legislative staff closed their summary of the proposal by declaring it would be “easy” to carry out the strategy, it’s far from clear if GOP lawmakers can align behind any of them. 

The options that Republicans are considering range from a proposal that they say would “complement” a progressive voter-led initiative that aims to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution, but in reality would place increased restrictions on the procedure, to others that would allow abortion only until the 15th or sixth week of pregnancy, with limited exceptions for victims of rape and incest. 

On Monday morning, House Republicans met privately on a video call to discuss the options proposed by GOP leaders. The presentation was meant to be kept from the public, but the Arizona Mirror obtained a copy of the presentation sent to them that outlined the proposals after the House’s general counsel mistakenly sent a copy of the slideshow presentation to every elected representative instead of just to Republicans. 



House Speaker Ben Toma did not respond to a request for comment and Senate President Warren Petersen said he had no comment because his chamber had not yet met to discuss the proposals. 

Republicans are scrambling to create some sort of plan after the Arizona Supreme Court’s April 9 ruling that said the state’s 1864 near-total abortion ban was enforceable sent the legislature and abortion advocates across the nation into an uproar. 

Any Republican ballot measure would compete with the one that reproductive rights groups are heading, dubbed the Arizona Abortion Access Act, which advocates say they have already collected enough signatures to make it onto the fall ballot. Their measure would ask voters to guarantee the right to abortion up to fetal viability — generally considered 24 weeks of gestation — with an exception for procedures performed after that time if the doctor considers it necessary to safeguard the life, physical or mental health of their patient. 

In the leaked presentation, Republicans outlined several different “phases” of possible abortion legislation that they might send to the ballot. 

Phase I would include a resolution with the various title options “Protecting Pregnant Women and Safe Abortions Act,” “Arizona Abortion and Reproductive Care Act” or “Arizona Abortion Protection Act.” 

But it wouldn’t guarantee anyone a right to abortion in Arizona. Instead, it would add existing state laws restricting abortion access to the Arizona Constitution. Those restrictions would include requiring informed consent, parental consent for minors who want to end a pregnancy, barring abortions based on genetic abnormalities, race or gender and as well as ban so-called partial-birth abortions and the selling or purchase of aborted fetuses or fetus parts.

Doing so could be sold to voters as complementing the abortion rights ballot initiative, Republicans were told. 

But its most important feature, according to the presentation, is that it would protect the “Legislature’s authority to enact laws rationally related to promoting and preserving life and to protecting the health and safety of pregnant women.”

And if lawmakers moved quickly to send it to the ballot, “voters would read Legislature’s referral first” on the ballot, ostensibly making them more likely to favor it, GOP lawmakers were told. 

Another positive, according to the slideshow presentation, is that it “puts Democrats in a defensive position to argue against partial birth abortions, discriminatory abortions, and other basic protections.”

Partial-birth abortion is not a medical term, but a phrase used by anti-abortion activists to describe a procedure that was banned at the federal level around 20 years ago

In the presentation, Republicans were told this approach is “much more reasonable” than the citizen initiative and it “changes (the) narrative” because it lets voters know that “Republicans have a plan!” 

Phase II calls for sending two other referrals to the ballot: one that would limit abortions to 14 weeks and another that would bar abortions after five weeks of gestation. 

Although the former would be sold as a 15-week limit — similar to what GOP lawmakers approved in 2022 — it’s crafted to be less than that. 

“In reality, it’s a 14-week law disguised as a 15-week law because it would only allow abortion until the beginning of the 15th week,” the presentation reads. The draft language does not provide any exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

This option would make it more likely that the progressive initiative will fail by splitting the vote, Republicans were told. 

But downsides would be that it transfers the regulation of abortion to the voters — whose choices can’t be changed later by the legislature — and that it “solidifies an arbitrary number of weeks” of gestation in the state Constitution. 

The 5-week ban — sold as a 6-week ban but featuring nearly identical language to its sibling proposal that really makes it a week shorter — that the GOP would propose alongside the 14-week ban referral would include exceptions to save the life of the mother and due to fatal fetal abnormalities. It would also allow abortion in the case of rape and incest but only before the 14th week of pregnancy. 

Another option would be a ballot measure that would place some restrictions on abortion, but only if the citizen initiative passes. 

It’s unclear if Republicans have the votes to send any of these measures to voters with only a one-seat majority in both chambers. 

After the ruling upholding the 1864 ban, some state and national Republican candidates — including several GOP state lawmakers, along with U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake and former President Donald Trump — softened their stances on abortion with the prospect of the issue galvanizing Democrats this fall. 

Democrats, along with GOP state Rep. Matt Gress of Phoenix, attempted on April 10 to bring for a vote a Democratic bill that would repeal the 1864 law, but Republicans shut down the effort by voting to adjourn before a vote could be taken on the proposal. 

During an interview with conservative talk show host James T. Harris on April 11, Toma promised that Republicans were working on an alternative to the Abortion Access Act. 

And on April 15, the rest of his chamber’s party members got a look at the options. 

“We’re just digesting it now right, and we’re letting it sink in and we’re considering our options as a caucus,” Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, told the Arizona Mirror several hours after being briefed on the possible ballot measures. “I’m not sure many people know where they stand because we just were briefed within the past few hours, and I don’t think we’ve had time as a caucus to get together. I’m looking forward to when we can meet face-to-face and discuss all possibilities.” 

Cook said that he believes neither the 1864 ban nor the 15-week ban passed in 2022 align with what he thinks should be the law, and he also believes the citizen initiative is written too broadly. 

His major issue with both the 1864 law and the 15-week ban is the lack exceptions for victims of rape and incest. 

“Those people are victims of crimes, of heinous sexual crimes, and you really don’t like talking about it or thinking about it,” Cook said. 

He said he believes that a 15-week ban with exceptions for victims of rape and incest and to save the life of the mother is what the majority of Arizonans would be comfortable with.

“I’m not saying that I like it, but I just listen to the people and the voters and where everybody would be and then I try to represent them,” Cook said. 

But it seems unlikely that the members of the far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus would vote in favor of a 14-week ban or any bill that “complements” the voter-led initiative. 

Rep. Jake Hoffman, a Queen Creek Republican and the leader of the Freedom Caucus, released a statement on April 12 saying that he has always believed and will continue to believe that life begins at conception. He added that he doesn’t think that any action from Republicans, even if politically advantageous, would be worth putting those values to the side. 

“So at the end of the day, the calculation cannot be to compromise a deeply held core conviction that life is sacred in an attempt to pacify the insatiable thirst for death by Democrats,” Hoffman wrote. 

In response to the leaked presentation, Arizona for Abortion Access released a statement calling its ballot initiative the only reasonable option. 

“Today, anti-abortion politicians’ plans were leaked showing their dishonest attempt to refer multiple competing abortion bans to the November ballot,” the campaign wrote. “This shows yet again why Arizonans can’t leave our most basic and personal rights in the hands of politicians.” 

The campaign went on to accuse Republicans of “creating chaos, lying to voters and robbing us of our fundamental right to make decisions about our own lives.”

Cathi Herrod, the president of the anti-abortion advocacy group the Center for Arizona Policy, declined to comment on the proposals that House Republicans are considering.

Comments are closed.