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Arizona Republicans weigh options to defeat abortion rights ballot measure, draft proposal reveals

<i>Ross D. Franklin/AP via CNN Newsource</i><br/>The Arizona House of Representatives building at the Arizona Capitol is shown April 11
Ross D. Franklin/AP via CNN Newsource
The Arizona House of Representatives building at the Arizona Capitol is shown April 11

By Arit John, CNN

(CNN) — Arizona Republicans are weighing their options to defeat a potential abortion rights ballot initiative this fall, including offering measures of their own that could draw support away from efforts to enshrine access to the procedure in the state constitution, according to a draft proposal obtained by CNN.

Under the proposal, Republicans could introduce two ballot initiatives that would restrict abortion to either six weeks or the beginning of the 15th week of pregnancy.

The proposal, drafted by Linley Wilson, the general counsel to Arizona House Republicans, comes days after the Arizona Supreme Court revived a 160-year-old near-total abortion ban. Arizona for Abortion Access, a coalition of abortion rights advocates, has gathered more than 500,000 signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would protect abortion until fetal viability, which doctors believe is around 22 to 24 weeks.

Arizona Republicans have been under intense pressure to address abortion rights following last week’s state Supreme Court decision, which revived an 1864 law that bans abortion except to save the life of the pregnant person and threatens doctors with two- to five-year prison sentences.

“The document presents ideas drafted for internal discussion and consideration within the caucus,” House GOP Speaker Ben Toma said in a statement. “I’ve publicly stated that we are looking at options to address this subject, and this is simply part of that.”

The memo suggests that one of the “pros” of the strategy would be to make it “more likely that the [Arizona for Abortion Access] Initiative will fail” due to the vote being split, Wilson wrote. One downside, she added, would be that the initiatives would “transfe[r] regulation of abortion from the Legislature to voters.”

The ballot initiatives mentioned were part of a multiphase approach designed to either block the passage of the Arizona for Abortion Access initiative or protect lawmakers’ ability to regulate abortion access.

Abortion rights groups have had success with ballot initiatives put to voters since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. The memo references several ballot initiatives abortion rights advocates are seeking to pass across the country, including the one in Arizona.

Arizona for Abortion Access blasted the draft strategy memo, calling it a political scheme designed to create chaos.

“This shows yet again why Arizonans can’t leave our most basic and personal rights in the hands of politicians,” the group said in a statement.

In the wake of the state Supreme Court decision last week, House Republicans gaveled out early to block Democrats from rolling back the ban. The legislature is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday.

Republicans in competitive races in the state, including former President Donald Trump and Senate candidate Kari Lake, have called on the GOP-led legislature to work with Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs on a fix.

But the proposal sent by Wilson would take Republicans down a different path. It argues Republicans should pursue a “Phase One” and consider “Phase Two” to change the “narrative” and show the party has a “plan,” as well as “potentially pull votes from [Arizona for Abortion Access] Initiative.”

Under the proposed Phase 1, lawmakers would first add a measure to the November ballot that would allow lawmakers to regulate certain practices, including requiring parental consent or a court order for minors seeking abortions and only allowing physicians to perform the procedure, which would exist alongside the fetal viability amendment.

Under the proposed Phase 2, the legislature would refer the six-week ban and a second measure the memo describes as “a 14-week law disguised as a 15-week law because it would only allow abortion until the beginning of the 15th week.”

The proposal also includes an alternative to Phase 2, under which lawmakers would refer a conditional enactment of the abortion rights ballot initiative, stating it is “not absolute,” and allow for laws regulating abortion for reasons including the “mitigation of fetal pain.”

Any ballot initiative referred by the Republican-led legislature would not need the signature of Hobbs. But it’s not clear if Republicans, who hold razor thin majorities in the state House and Senate, will have enough support to enact the plan laid out.

The memo, however, ends with a meme featuring talk show host Seth Meyers that says: “Boom. Easy as that.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

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