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Arizona Pro-Life Groups Pray Against Abortion Ballot Measure

A dozen states could vote on the issue come November.
Arizona Pro-Life Groups Pray Against Abortion Ballot Measure
Image: Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

Rosie Villegas-Smith was spending a Saturday handing out flyers with volunteers from Voces Unidas, a pro-life nonprofit, when she noticed a group gathering signatures.

The woman who approached her never mentioned the word abortion, only referring to women’s rights, but she quickly realized what they were campaigning for: a ballot measure on expanding abortion access in Arizona in the November elections.

The southwestern state is one of up to a dozen across the country that will vote on abortion later this year, part of the continued reshaping of the legal landscape following the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Arizona’s measure would enshrine the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution, overriding its current 15-week ban and allowing the procedure at any point in a pregnancy if a health care provider determines it is necessary to protect either the life or the physical and mental health of the mother.

The state has been in a back-and-forth over abortion policies for weeks, with pro-life groups ramping up efforts to reach out to women who may be considering abortions and to voters who may consider supporting expanding abortion access.

Last month, Arizona’s top court ruled that an 1864 law prohibiting abortion could go into effect as a result of the reversal of Roe v. Wade. The controversial ruling came under fire nationally; even former president Donald Trump and other high-profile Republicans suggested it went too far. Vice President Kamala Harris slammed the law as putting women in a “state of chaos and cruelty caused by Donald Trump.”

A legislative repeal narrowly passed the state Senate 16–14 after two Republicans crossed the aisle to side with Democrats. One of the GOP lawmakers who voted for the repeal, Sen. Shawnna Bolick, said that repealing the strict 1864 law, and leaving a more moderate abortion bill in place, may dampen efforts by abortion rights groups to put more expansive abortion measures on the ballot. “I am here to protect more babies,” she said.

Gov. Katie Hobbs signed the repeal last week, which is slated to take effect 90 days after the legislative session ends this summer. There are legal efforts underway by the abortion rights groups asking the state supreme court to block the 1864 law from going into effect in the interim.

A 2022 state law allows abortion until 15 weeks of pregnancy in Arizona, with an exception beyond that point if necessary to save the mother’s life. The 1864 law prohibited abortion at any stage in a pregnancy, with an exception for the life of the mother.

“It’s imperative for pro-life citizens in Arizona to educate themselves and their neighbors about this extreme constitutional amendment,” March for Life president Jeanne Mancini told CT. The measure, she said, would “open the floodgates to painful abortion up until birth, ending precious, innocent life and stripping women of the health and safety protections they need and deserve.”

Arizona for Abortion Access, which is campaigning in support of the new measure to solidify abortion protections in the state constitution, says it has met the signature threshold to get the ballot. It’s now up to the secretary of state to verify the signatures.

“They’re not even happy with [15 weeks],” Villegas-Smith said. Pro-life groups like hers are addressing the implications of the proposed amendment and appealing to voters to protect life.

Villegas-Smith, who is originally from Mexico, became interested in pro-life advocacy as a result of watching friends suffer in the physical and emotional aftermath of their abortions. Her group also seeks to reach out to minorities.

The largest group of women receiving abortions in the state are Hispanic—in 2021, 43.8 percent according to the Arizona Department of Health Services—and Voces Unidas seeks to reach minority women with information as well as through support groups, baby showers, and in some cases, safe housing.

“We know that it’s very important to give a message for hope, that the baby is a gift from God, and so we organize baby showers for them and give them a basket and a cake and a full celebration,” Villegas-Smith said, “especially for women who don’t have family support.”

The nonprofit is not explicitly religious, but Villegas-Smith said they often work with religious groups, and that many of the volunteers and employees identify as Christian or Catholic. Voces Unidas makes a practice of “praying for life,” praying outside of abortion centers and at the capital before the vote over repealing the 1864 law.

Abortion policies may be on the ballot in nearly a dozen states come November. In addition to Arizona, there are ballot measures in Florida and Maryland. Other states, such as Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, and South Dakota, are either in the signature-gathering process or have submitted signatures and are waiting for approval. New York’s ballot measure is facing blowback in the courts, making the fate of the effort uncertain.

Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision reversing Roe, voters in a handful of states, including California, Michigan, Ohio, and Vermont, chose to protect and in some cases expand abortion access via ballot measures. Other states, like Kentucky and Kansas, voted down measures that would have restricted abortion.

“It’s kind of a wake-up call to us, to I think Arizonans and Americans, that a 15-week abortion law is not enough,” said Kelsey Pritchard, state public affairs director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. The group has a field team in Arizona canvassing ahead of the election.

“They’re on the ground not only making the pro-lifers aware of what’s at stake here, but people kind of in the middle as well. Because when you’re talking about health and safety, it’s not just a Republican pro-life thing. That’s something even pro-choice people care about,” Pritchard said. “That’s really something for all Arizonians to care about.”

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