Gloria Rebecca Gomez

(Arizona Mirror) Arizona Democrats and Gov. Katie Hobbs are pushing to protect access to contraceptives in the Grand Canyon State.

On Thursday, Democratic state Rep. Athena Salman announced her plan to introduce legislation next year guaranteeing all Arizonans the right to contraception.

“Enough is enough,” she said. “Contraceptives are essential to a person’s privacy, health, well-being, dignity, liberty, equality and the ability to participate in social and economic life.”

The announcement comes as advocates across the country commemorate the one-year anniversary of Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization, which eliminated the constitutional right to abortion and paved the way for several state-level abortion bans. Arizona currently limits abortion at 15 weeks, with a sole exception for women facing an imminent threat to their lives and none for rape or incest victims. In a concurring opinion that accompanied Dobbs, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas posited that other rulings warranted review, including Griswold v. Connecticut which resulted in the federally protected right to buy and use contraceptives free of government interference.

Salman cited that threat, as well as continued efforts from Arizona Republicans to eliminate abortion access as the impetus behind her proposal. And the Tempe Democrat’s announcement was vociferously supported by Hobbs, who called on Republican lawmakers, who hold a one-vote majority in each legislative chamber, to advance it.

“My message to legislators is this: Attacks on reproductive freedoms and basic health care will not be tolerated any longer. If you care about freedom, if you care about the future of our state, you must join me, Representative Salman and Arizonans across the political spectrum who believe in protecting reproductive health care,” Hobbs said.

The former social worker has built her political brand around an unwavering pro-choice stance, vetoing several GOP attempts to further restrict abortion access this year – actions that have put her increasingly at odds with the majority party. With an acrimonious relationship between the two, it’s highly unlikely Republicans, whose caucus is more conservative than ever before, will be willing to entertain the measure. Spokespersons for Senate and House Republicans did not respond to a question about their position.

Salman acknowledged that reality, noting that her intent was as much to spotlight hostile lawmakers as it is to safeguard access for Arizonans. When pressed, however, she admitted that she hasn’t yet reached out to any Republican colleagues to determine their reception of the bill, which is still in the drafting stage. But every Democrat in the legislature, Salman assured, is in agreement with the fledgling proposal.

“I cannot emphasize this enough: if the votes are not there, or if the legislature cannot move because of who the majority put in charge of the Senate or the House, then that majority needs to change,” she said.

Democrats in Arizona and across the country are setting their sights on abortion as a key issue in upcoming elections that could bolster efforts to gain control of state legislatures.

“In Arizona, we are closer than ever to restoring the right to choose,” said Sen. Eva Burch, D-Phoenix, the minority whip, during an online news conference held to reflect on the post-Roe environment. “House and Senate Democrats are in one-seat minority in both chambers. Just flipping two seats in the House or two seats in the Senate could fundamentally change the outlook for millions of Arizonans’ reproductive rights.”

That’s a goal that Hobbs shares. Earlier this year she pledged $500,000 in funding to help make Democrats the legislative majority in 2024.

Another pro-choice effort aiming for the 2024 ballot is an initiative to preserve abortion access via the state constitution. When the Dobbs decision leaked in May 2022, Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom launched a campaign to enshrine reproductive rights in Arizona via a constitutional amendment. But, with little time to gather signatures, the effort fell apart. A renewed attempt, this time a product of several local abortion advocacy organizations, including Planned Parenthood of Arizona, Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom and Affirm, a nonprofit health services organization, has its sights set on 2024.

But, proponents said on Thursday, the initiative’s path to the ballot might be rescheduled once again. Planned Parenthood of Arizona CEO Brittany Fonteno said abortion advocates are still in the exploratory phase, conducting research and polling on Arizonan support levels to determine what the initiative’s final language looks like.

“Our focus is on the possibility of a ballot initiative in 2024,” she said, during an online news conference to discuss abortion access for PPAZ clinics over the past year. “We know that there is a lot of energy and interest in making this happen in 2024, and so it is our intention as we continue to explore to potentially pursue something next year. But we have to see what the research tells us.”

In the meantime, Salman is focused on protecting contraceptive access. She noted that depending on Congress, which just last week reintroduced a Right to Contraception Act after failing to pass an iteration last year, isn’t good enough anymore.

“We can no longer wait here in Arizona,” she said. “The threats are very real.”

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