Arizona Activists Want Abortion to Be ‘Fundamental Right’ Protected in State Constitution

Pro-life groups say the proposal is radical and would allow abortion at any stage for any reason.
Arizona Activists Want Abortion to Be ‘Fundamental Right’ Protected in State Constitution
Protesters shout as they join thousands marching around the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix after the Supreme Court decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision on June 24, 2022. (Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo
Naveen Athrappully

A pro-abortion group is looking to amend the Arizona Constitution to ensure that abortion is recognized as a right, which critics say will include “barbaric partial-birth abortion."

The group, called Arizona for Abortion Access, launched the petition on Sept. 21, aiming to put the issue on the ballot next year. The Arizona Abortion Access Act would enshrine abortion as a fundamental right in the state’s constitution.

To qualify for the ballot, the petition must have nearly 400,000 signatures from state voters by July 3, 2024.

The proposed act (pdf) states that every individual has a “fundamental right to abortion” and that the state shall not enact any law or practice that denies such rights “before fetal viability” unless there is a “compelling state interest.”

The act would prohibit the state from denying abortion “after fetal viability” if it were deemed necessary to “protect the life or physical or mental health” of the pregnant woman.

The state would also not be allowed to penalize any individual or entity that aids or assists a pregnant woman in getting an abortion.

Pro-Life Response

Cathi Herrod, the president of pro-life group Center for Arizona Policy Action, criticized the proposal.

In a Sept. 21 statement, she accused proponents of the Arizona Abortion Access Act of hiding the “radical nature” of the amendment.

“Claims made by the campaign mislead voters by portraying the abortion ballot measure as limited, when, in reality, the exemptions will always allow abortion at any stage of development and throughout all nine months of pregnancy, as long as the abortion provider signs off on it,” she said.

“The broad exemption of ‘mental health’ of the mother after viability is widely understood, even in the courts, to mean virtually anything the abortion provider wants it to mean, including stress or anxiety. Even barbaric partial-birth abortion is legal under this exemption.”

Partial-birth abortion is a procedure in which the fetus is partially delivered while still alive and then killed and removed from a pregnant woman. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, partial birth abortion “crosses the line from abortion to infanticide.”

“The doctor delivers a substantial portion of the living child outside his mother's body—the entire head in a head-first delivery or the trunk past the navel in a feet-first delivery—then kills the child by crushing his skull or removing his brain by suction," the conference states.

Dr. Candace Lew, chair of Arizona for Abortion Access, justified the move to make abortion a constitutional right, saying that “we have written this ballot measure because Arizonans deserve the freedom to make our own decisions about pregnancy and abortion.”

“These deeply personal decisions should be treated with compassion, dignity, and privacy, not political interference," she stated.

The move is being supported by multiple organizations, including the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

Abortion Ban in Arizona

In March 2022, just a few months before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Arizona adopted a 15-week abortion, stating specifically that the 15-week ban would not invalidate an older law that banned abortions outright, in case the law came back into effect due to a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

The outright ban was initially enacted in the 1860s during the Civil War period, when Arizona was not even a state.

It was in effect until 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion nationwide. The same year, an injunction was placed on the state’s total abortion ban.

But the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in December 2022 that the original law enacted in the 1860s does not apply to doctors, and that licensed physicians who carry out abortions until 15 weeks cannot be prosecuted even as the abortion ban remains in effect for those who are not doctors. Pro-life groups appealed the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court, which is set to hear oral arguments in December.

According to data from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research organization, Arizona has 1.6 million women in the reproductive age range of 15 to 49 years old. The state saw 13,320 abortions in 2020, with the abortion rate among 15- to 44-year-olds being 9.3 per 1,000 women.

Abortion Policies

Arizona is the latest state that is looking to enshrine abortion as a fundamental right in its constitution. Last year, pro-abortion activists succeeded in putting the abortion issue on ballots in six states, including Kansas and Kentucky, NBC News reported.
 Protesters march past the Trump International Hotel as they take part in the Women's March and Rally for Abortion Justice in Washington on Oct. 2, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters march past the Trump International Hotel as they take part in the Women's March and Rally for Abortion Justice in Washington on Oct. 2, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

In Ohio, a proposed amendment to make abortion a fundamental right will be placed on the ballot this November.

In states like Missouri and Florida, efforts similar to what is happening in Arizona are underway. Pro-abortion groups are discussing similar amendments in states like South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana.

Abortion is a key issue in the 2024 presidential race. President Biden has been supportive of abortion, except during the last three months of pregnancy.

Three major pro-abortion groups—Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL: Pro-Choice America, and Emily's List—are supporting President Biden in the 2024 presidential race.

On the Republican side, President Trump maintains a strong pro-life stance.

“When I'm reelected, I will continue to fight against the demented late-term abortionists in the Democrat Party who believe in unlimited abortion on demand and even executing babies after birth,” he said during an event on June 24.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the closest contender for the GOP nomination after President Trump, has indicated that abortion is a state issue rather than a federal one. Former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have said that they support a 15-week federal abortion ban.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.