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Arkansas election officials reject petitions submitted for an abortion rights ballot measure

Dozens at white stone building, many holding signs with messages including "Healthcare is private," as an officer stands by
Supporters and opponents of a proposed ballot measure to scale back Arkansas’ abortion ban protest last week at the state Capitol in Little Rock.
(Andrew DeMillo / Associated Press)
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Arkansas election officials rejected petitions Wednesday that were submitted for an abortion rights ballot measure that organizers hoped to put before voters in the predominantly Republican state this fall.

The Arkansas secretary of state’s office rejected the petitions for the effort to amend the state constitution, saying organizers had failed to include required statements regarding paid signature gatherers.

The group submitted more than 101,000 signatures on Friday. They needed at least 90,704 signatures from registered voters, including certain minimums from 50 of the state’s 75 counties.

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In a letter to petition organizers, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston said his office had determined that signatures gathered by unpaid volunteers amounted to 87,382 — more than 3,300 short of requirements.

Republican-majority state legislatures decline to place abortion and reproductive rights measures before voters.

June 23, 2024

A spokesperson for Arkansans for Limited Government, the group behind the measure, said that its legal team is reviewing the state’s letter.

The measure would have barred laws banning abortion in the first 20 weeks of gestation and allowed the procedure later in cases of rape, incest, threats to the woman’s health or life, or if the fetus would be unlikely to survive birth.

The U.S. Supreme Court ended the nationwide right to abortion with a 2022 ruling, prompting bans in many states as well as voter efforts to allow the procedure. An Arkansas ban took effect with the high court’s ruling; the state’s current ban allows abortion only to protect the mother’s life in a medical emergency.

The proposed ballot measure was viewed as a test of support for reproductive rights in a Republican state where top elected officials have spoken out against abortion.

A lawsuit challenging federal rules entitling workers to time off and other accommodations for abortions lacks standing, a federal judge ruled.

June 15, 2024

“Today the far left pro-abortion crowd in Arkansas showed they are both immoral and incompetent,” GOP Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a post on X after the petitions were rejected.

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The ballot proposal lacked support from national abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood because it would have allowed the procedure to be banned 20 weeks into pregnancy.

The measure faced heavy opposition from abortion opponents in the state. One antiabortion group, the Family Council Action Committee, published the names of people who gathered signatures for the measure, and vowed to challenge the proposed amendment to the state constitution in court if it made the ballot.

The secretary of state’s letter cited an Arkansas law that requires campaigns to submit statements identifying paid canvassers by name and indicating that the rules for gathering signatures had been explained to them.

DeMillo writes for the Associated Press.

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