tr?id=&ev=PageView&noscript=

This Tempe woman is fighting to get abortion on the ballot this year

This Tempe woman is fighting to get abortion on the ballot this year

Cindy Sigmon (left) volunteers gathering signatures for the Arizona Abortion Access Act at Brick Road Coffee in Tempe. (Photo by Robert Gundran)

By Robert Gundran

February 22, 2024

“To have the US Supreme Court throw out a fundamental freedom that women have had for over four decades is utterly shocking,” Sigmon said.

 

A woman who has seen abortion access dwindle in Arizona over the past 50 years is now working to establish a fundamental right to the procedure under Arizona’s constitution.

Cathy Sigmon, a Tempe woman in her 70s, has been gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that could establish a fundamental right to abortion in the Copper State.

“Abortion was ruled legal and constitutional when I was in my 20s,” Sigmon said. “So for all of my adult life and for my children, who are now in their late 30s, the right to access abortion and the freedom to make health care decisions was a given.”

 

READ MORE: Meet an Arizona woman who volunteers to walk people into abortion clinics

 

Arizona for Abortion Access (AAA), a coalition of groups that advocate for reproductive rights, is leading the signature-gathering process to get abortion on the ballot in 2024. The initiative has been endorsed by the ACLU of Arizona and Planned Parenthood Arizona, among others.

If placed on the ballot and approved by voters, the Arizona Abortion Access Act would amend the Arizona State Constitution to prevent anyone in the state from denying, restricting, or interfering with abortion unless a health care provider determined that the fetus had a “significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus without extraordinary medical measures.”

It would also prohibit the state from penalizing or charging people for performing or receiving abortions in medical emergencies.

The state constitution currently gives voters the ability to propose new laws or constitutional amendments through its initiative process.

To amend the state constitution, a ballot initiative requires signatures from 15% of qualified electors. That means the Arizona Abortion Access Act needs roughly 384,000 valid signatures to be on the 2024 ballot.

Abortion will be constitutionally protected if it reaches the ballot and passes with a simple majority during November’s election.

Chris Love, spokeswoman for AAA, said the campaign had gathered 250,000 signatures as of January, and they’re looking to get more than double the required amount.

“The first line of attack for our opposition is to get the signatures thrown out,” Love said. “So what we are aiming to do is produce so many signatures that won’t be a fruitful way of going about it for our opposition.”

Sigmon herself has garnered hundreds of signatures in the effort. Each petition sheet holds 15 signatures, and as of mid-February she’s brought in a few dozen, she said.

“I have turned in something like 25 petitions and I have another 10 or so in my bag,” Sigmon said.

The campaign has until July 4 to submit the total number of signatures needed to get on the ballot.

 

Back to the 19th century

These recent efforts come as abortion is at risk of being made entirely illegal in Arizona, as the state Supreme Court started hearing a case in December to determine whether a ban put into effect before Arizona was a state can be enforced, or if the current 15-week ban is the law of the land.

The case involves an 1864 law that is technically still on the books and imposes an almost total ban on abortion. The only exception is if the life of the mother is in danger, with none for rape or incest.

Sigmon considers both the pre-statehood law and 15-week ban unacceptable.

“I am concerned about how the Arizona Supreme Court might decide,” she said. “We obviously don’t want to go back to the 1864 law, but the law that was also passed for a 15-week ban is completely inadequate and insufficient as well. I don’t anticipate that the Supreme Court will make an entirely favorable decision, but I certainly hope they don’t send us back to 1864.”

 

READ MORE: Arizona Supreme Court to hear arguments on 1864 abortion ban 

 

Seven justices sit on the Arizona Supreme Court, all of whom were appointed by Republican governors. Justice Bill Montgomery recused himself from the abortion case due to social media posts he made in the past exposing his bias.

“Planned Parenthood is responsible for the greatest generational genocide known to man,” Montgomery wrote in a since-deleted Facebook post in 2017. “They put King Herod to shame.”

If the Arizona Supreme Court makes a ruling before November, as it’s expected to, it could have a large impact on the 2024 election in Arizona—as it did in other states in 2022 and 2023 elections.

“As someone who has been in repro communities for a while, that’s my worst nightmare, is that we go back to this 1864 ban, regardless of how it will motivate Arizona voters in this issue, because that means that Arizonans who need abortion services will not be able to get them here in our state,” Love said.

She said she’s been asked about how abortion affects voter turnout and election results “a million times,” but the question misses the point.

“I can’t deny the fact that folks will be motivated to come out if the [Arizona] Supreme Court does the wrong thing, because that’s always been what’s at stake here in Arizona where we don’t have the right to seek abortion care,” she said. “The 15-week ban is a ban. Fifteen weeks we know presents an access issue … Fifteen weeks is not a lot of time for folks who maybe don’t know they’re pregnant.”

 

A winning message

Arizona for Abortion Access has attempted to get right-leaning independents and advocates for smaller government on the campaign’s side by signaling that preserving abortion rights is about keeping the government out of people’s personal lives.

A 2023 poll from Data for Progress asked more than 1,700 voters in Arizona their thoughts on abortion. A majority of Republicans who participated in the survey believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while 36% think it should be legal in all or most cases.

Paired with the 61% of independents who said they believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, AAA thinks those voters can create the path to victory for less restrictive abortion access in Arizona.

“I think we have a really important message and hopefully a winning message,” Love said. “No matter how you might personally feel about abortion, we know that folks do not believe that our government should be involved in decisions that should be made by pregnant people and their trusted medical providers.”

Abortion rights have been a winning message since the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, giving states the power to restrict or regulate any part of abortion not already protected by federal law.

In the 2022 midterm elections, the right to abortion access won out on ballots in Kansas, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont, and in Ohio in 2023.

Sigmon said she has been getting signatures from people all across the political spectrum.

“I remember just last week there was an older gentleman here who said he was a Republican and was very happy to be able to sign to get the abortion petition on the ballot,” she said. “Men who value their partners, their wives, and their daughters are very, very supportive no matter what their political leaning [is].”

Sigmon said she hasn’t experienced any hostility or harassment while collecting signatures because, she believes, Arizonans understand that preserving freedoms is important.

“I think it’s good to help people understand that … our freedom to make our own decisions is very fundamental to democracy, and we cannot take that for granted,” Sigmon said.

 

Subscribe to The Copper Courier’s daily newsletter! We keep it 💯—just like the temperature.

Author

  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.

CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | HEALTHCARE
Related Stories
Share This