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Arizona abortion activists say they’ve got enough signatures to force 2024 vote

Democrats and reproductive rights activists alike received their second piece of good news this week with the announcement in Arizona that campaigners there have reached the signature threshold to put an abortion rights amendment on the ballot this year.

NBC News first reported the announcement on Tuesday; activists with the umbrella organisation Arizona for Abortion Access (which includes some local groups as well as offshoots of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood) told the network that it had surged past the signature requirement for ballot access and would continue to push their total higher before the deadline.

Assuming that the group still has enough signatures after some are inevitably invalidated by state law and procedure, the campaign will succeed in putting forth a question on the state’s 2024 ballot asking voters whether the Arizona constitution should include an amendment “establish[ing] a fundamental right to abortion”. If passed, the amendment would prevent any laws or regulations prohibiting abortion procedures before a fetus is medically capable of surviving on its own; it would also protect the right of patients to have abortion procedures at any point if their lives are endangered by the continuation of their pregnancies.

Right now, Arizona bans abortion after 15 weeks into the pregnancy. That law, passed in 2022 and signed by Republican governor Doug Ducey, would be invalidated by the constitutional amendment; fetal viability is generally considered to occur around 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

Cheryl Bruce, a spokesperson for the ballot measure campaign, told NBC News that reproductive freedom was “an issue that people are eager to see on the ballot” after the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision overturning abortion protections in Roe vs Wade and the Arizona legislature’s subsequent passage of a ban.

One of those people likely eager to see abortion language on the ballot in such an important swing state is President Joe Biden. The Biden re-election campaign has made clear that it sees grassroots state-level pushes to codify reproductive freedoms into state constitutions as opportunities for Democrats up and down the ballot as the incumbent president seeks a second term and faces off against Donald Trump once again.

That was made clear as the Biden team held a campaign call with top Democrats in Florida’s state house on Monday following news that reproductive freedoms will be on the ballot in that state this November as well. Activists there are putting a constitutional amendment to voters. Meanwhile, the state’s Supreme Court has let a six-week ban take effect, leading to some of the strictest prohibitions of abortion in the nation.

“This November, Florida will draw a line in the sand and say enough, we will reject these extremists,” Florida House Democratic leader Fentrice Driskell told reporters on the call Monday.

His campaign is leaning into this message will enthusiasm, even as the Irish Catholic president himself eschews mentioning the term “abortion” itself in speeches and statements. His vice president, Kamala Harris, became the first sitting VP to visit and speak from an abortion clinic when she visited a Planned Parenthood centre in Wisconsin last month.

Unlike Florida, Arizona represents a state Mr Biden won back from Republicans in 2020. While the Sunshine State has unquestionably trended red in recent election cycles, Democrats in the southwest have had opposite fortunes and repeated their 2020 victory in last year’s midterm elections with the defeat of Kari Lake, a Trump loyalist and election denier, in the gubernatorial race.

Some polling in Arizona indicates that Mr Biden is now trailing his former and future opponent in Arizona, but the race remains hotly contested. Mr Trump led by just three percentage points in a survey from RABA Research in late March.

Races where reproductive freedoms are “on the ballot” have been electoral life preservers for Democrats across the country in the last two election cycles. The Supreme Court’s 2022 decision tossing longstanding federal protections for abortion rights in the Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization case supercharged ground-level resistance to conservative abortion bans and contributed to victories like Katie Hobbs’s in Arizona, Tudor Dixon’s in Michigan and John Fetterman’s in Pennsylvania.

Now, Democrats are hoping that same energy will help keep Mr Biden afloat in states that he won in 2020 but now risks losing to Mr Trump thanks to lingering concerns about oppressive inflation on products including groceries and gas as well as open debates about the president’s mental acuity and fitness. Mr Biden appears to be lagging behind his opponent in a number of those key battleground states, though his allies remain optimistic that the president’s numbers will improve, and Mr Trump’s will drop, as voters begin paying more attention to the election later in the year.

Mr Biden continues to lead his Republican rival in fundraising and recently announced a $26m one-night haul following a fundraiser with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton in New York.