Arkansas abortion rights ballot initiative rejected by secretary of state 


The Arkansas secretary of state on Wednesday rejected an effort for an abortion-rights ballot measure that would ensure access to the procedure up to 18 weeks in the state.

In a letter to Arkansas for Limited Government — the group behind the effort — Secretary of State John Thurston said the group did not submit the required statements about paid signature gatherers.

The group announced last Friday it collected more than 100,000 signatures, exceeding the 90,704 needed for placing the amendment to the state constitution on the ballot.

The proposed measure would amend the Arkansas Constitution to explicitly prohibit the state government from being able to “prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion services” in any situation up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.

All abortions are currently banned in Arkansas except for when necessary to save the life of the patient.

Thurston said the group did not provide a statement confirming each canvasser was given proper documentation and a rundown of the state’s law before signature gathering began.

“By contrast, other sponsors of initiative petitions complied with this requirement. Therefore, I must reject your submission,” he wrote.

Arkansas for Limited Government said they emailed the statement more than a dozen times and asked for a period to provide a hard copy to the office.

Thurston claimed 14,143 of the 101,525 submitted signatures were collected by paid canvassers, while the remain 87,832 volunteer signatures fall more than 3,300 signatures behind the minimum amount.

“Therefore, even if I could accept your submission, I would be forced to find that your petition is insufficient on its face for failure to obtain the required 90,704 signatures,” he wrote.

The group, in a statement Wednesday, said it was “alarmed and outraged” by Thurston’s letter. The group said it worked with the secretary of state’s office to ensure all rules and regulations were followed.

“Until today, we had no reason not to trust that the paperwork they supplied us was correct and complete,” the group said, adding, “Arkansas law does not empower the Secretary of State to make an unfounded legal interpretation, which is what he did today by summarily declaring that we have not completed the steps for disqualification.”

State constitutional amendments to protect abortion access could be voted on in up to 11 states this year, including Colorado, Missouri and Florida. Five states are confirmed to have them up for a vote and others are in varying stages of advancing similar measures.

Arizona and Nebraska similarly announced earlier this month they had collected enough signatures for measures ensuring abortion access could be on their state ballots.

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