Group files longshot Arizona initiative bid to protect abortion rights in state constitution

A newly organized group of abortion rights supporters on Tuesday filed an initiative that seeks to amend the Arizona Constitution to protect the right to abortion.

The effort by a group called Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom is a longshot to make the ballot, since the group needs to collect more than 356,000 signatures from registered voters by July 7. Initiative proponents often aim to collect at least an extra 30% over the minimum as a buffer, meaning the group needs about 460,000.

The move comes in response to the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that suggested the high court could be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that gave women a constitutional right to get an abortion. The final ruling is expected to be released by late June. Also driving the push is a new Arizona law signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, about seven weeks before the current law allows.

Related: Roe v. Wade: What you need to know about a key abortion ruling that the Supreme Court looks poised to overturn

Arizona has a pre-statehood law that makes all abortions illegal that is expected to go back in force if Roe is overturned.

Shasta McManus, treasurer of Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom and a board member of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said a coalition of abortion rights supporters quickly formed when the draft high court opinion was leaked.

"We all decided that we can’t sit around and do nothing, that we have to act now," McManus said. "As soon as this goes into effect, people’s lives are going to be irreversibly harmed."

Arizona is one of at least 26 states that have either "trigger" laws that would ban all abortions if Roe is struck down or "zombie" laws like Arizona’s pre-Roe law that has not been enforceable since 1973, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports reproductive rights.

McManus said Arizona is one of just three states with those laws that also allow citizens to write their own laws or amend their constitution.

The proposed constitutional amendment would forbid any government interference in a woman’s reproductive health decisions and allow abortions until the fetus is viable, considered at about 23 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. It would allow abortions after that time if the life or health of the mother is at risk, and also bar any limits on contraception.