By Kylie Cheung 

Abortion rights are popular, and when abortion is on the ballot, it wins. We’ve seen that over and over since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, setting off both a rash of state-level abortion bans as well as ballot measures to protect abortion. Arizona is now one of several states trying to put the issue on the ballot in November to enshrine abortion rights in their state Constitution. As of January, Arizona for Abortion Access announced they’ve collected 250,000 of the 400,000 signatures needed by July to get abortion on the ballot. Anti-abortion activists in the state are now going to deeply concerning lengths to try and stop this. 

On Wednesday, Politico published a feature where abortion opponents laid out their Arizona strategy and, simply put, it’s bonkers. They’re focusing primarily on physically disrupting pro-choice volunteers to prevent people from signing in support of a ballot measure by any means. Per Politico, this has included “tracking the locations of signature-gatherers on a private Telegram channel, filming them, interrupting their work, and calling security to get them removed from high-traffic spots around town.” 

In other words, anti-abortion organizers are stalking, harassing, surveilling, and nonconsensually taping abortion rights canvassers—which is terrifying but very in line with their strategies outside abortion clinics. Activists told Politico they’re filming canvassers, hoping to get them on video sharing any information that may be even slightly inaccurate in order to submit this as evidence that the signatures they’ve gathered were wrongfully obtained due to misinformation. I have to say, this is some of the craziest behavior I’ve heard since anti-abortion activists hid in a closet at a Walgreens shareholder conference for over nine hours in January 2023 to protest the pharmacy for carrying abortion pills.

“We will make sure no one will get approached to sign without hearing the other side of the story,” Chanel Prunier, who leads Students for Life’s electoral advocacy, told the outlet. Ashley Trussell, the chair of Arizona Right to Life, told Politico her team is especially determined to target “moderate, independent” Arizonans “who may think the woman has the right to choose, but think this ballot initiative goes too far,” as if people who want to prevent the government from policing pregnancy and imposing forced birth are the extremists.

“Our prayer is that it doesn’t even reach the ballot,” Trussell added, saying the quiet part out loud. Despite the anti-abortion wing’s disturbing behavior, Republican state Sen. Shawnna Bolick told Politico it’s the abortion rights measure that’s extreme: “You’re basically going to murder somebody,” she said. Sure, dude.

At least one Arizona voter told the outlet he’s considered calling the police on anti-abortion organizers for “interference and intimidation.” Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said she’s “very concerned” by the threat that anti-abortion “decline to sign” organizers pose, as their actions intimidate voters and abortion rights organizers alike. “Obviously there’s a balance between free speech rights and the rights of the folks who are collecting the signatures,” she said. “But if there’s any harassment that crosses the line, I want people to know that we will aggressively oppose those efforts and prosecute anyone who engages in violence or threats against the people who are collecting signatures.”

In addition to stalking abortion rights canvassers and begging people to not sign in support of the ballot measure, activists told Politico they’re also instructing those who have already signed to contact the Arizona secretary of state’s office and ask for their signatures to be withdrawn. Secretary of State Adrian Fontes’ office told Politico this week that no one has done this yet.

Anti-abortion activists across the U.S. seem desperate to stop democracy from functioning as it’s designed. Despite their pledge to “send abortion back to the states,” they’ve perpetrated voter suppression and disinformation tactics, which we’ve so far seen in OhioMissouriFlorida, and elsewhere to stop these states from autonomously deciding on abortion. Take Ohio for instance, where voters decisively supported an abortion rights ballot measure in November. Before that, Ohio Republicans unsuccessfully tried to raise the vote threshold for ballot measures to take effect from a simple majority to 60%. Ohio officials later purged the voter rolls right before the election and rolled out torrents of disinformation about the measure. All of that failed. And Ohio voted to protect abortion rights.

Elsewhere, we’ve seen Missouri Republicans unsuccessfully try to block a proposed abortion rights ballot measure in September by lying that it would somehow cost voters $12 billion and allow abortion up until “live birth.” And in July, anti-abortion activists in the state were recorded describing their plan to delay abortion rights organizers’ ability to begin collecting signatures for as long as possible. Abortion rights organizers in Missouri are still currently scrambling to collect signatures before the May deadline. And Florida Republicans are also trying to block a surprisingly bipartisan effort to get an abortion rights amendment on the November ballot by challenging the proposed measure at the Supreme Court, claiming it’s unclear about where it stands on abortion gestational limits.

At least in Arizona, some abortion rights organizers say the over-the-top efforts of decline-to-sign activists have often proven counterproductive. “In some cases, it attracts more attention to our petition gatherers,” Chris Love, a senior advisor for Arizona for Abortion Access, told Politico, explaining, “Folks see something going on and they want to figure out what’s happening, they want to check it out. And a lot of them intentionally go to sign at that point.” 

Any logical person could see that being the case. But considering how desperate anti-abortion activists are, in general, to stalk, harass, and, in too many cases, inflict physical violence on people, I doubt they can be convinced to stop.

Read more here.

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