Arkansas Abortion Rights Initiative Rejected by Secretary of State

Arkansas' secretary of state on Wednesday rejected a proposed referendum on abortion rights that would have allowed the procedure to be available in the state up to 18 weeks.

In a letter to arkansas for limited government — the group behind the effort — Secretary of State John Thurston said the group failed to file required statements about paid signature gatherers.

The group announced last Friday that it had collected more than 100,000 signatures, surpassing the 90,704 needed to put the amendment to the state constitution on the ballot.

The proposed measure would amend the Arkansas Constitution to explicitly prohibit the state government from “prohibiting, penalizing, delaying or restricting” abortion services in any situation up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.

Currently, all abortions are illegal in Arkansas except when necessary to save the patient's life.

Thurston said the group did not issue a statement confirming that each canvasser was provided with proper documentation and a review of state law before gathering signatures began.

“Other sponsors of initiative petitions, however, did meet this requirement. Therefore, I must reject your submission,” he wrote.

Arkansas for Limited Government indicated that they emailed the statement more than a dozen times and asked for a deadline to send a paper copy to the office.

Thurston claimed that 14,143 of the 101,525 signatures submitted were collected by paid canvassers, while the remaining 87,832 signatures from volunteers fell more than 3,300 signatures short of the minimum number.

“Therefore, even if I were to accept your petition, I would be forced to find that your petition is prima facie inadequate and has not collected the required 90,704 signatures,” he wrote.

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

“To date, we have had no reason not to trust that the documentation they provided us was accurate and complete,” the group said. “Arkansas law does not give the Secretary of State the authority to make an unfounded legal interpretation. That is what he did today by succinctly stating that we have not completed the steps for disqualification.”

State constitutional amendments to protect abortion access could be on the ballot in up to 11 states this year, including Colorado, Missouri and Florida. Five states have confirmed they will be on the ballot, and others are in various stages of passing similar measures.

Arizona and Nebraska announced earlier this month that they had collected enough signatures to put measures ensuring abortion access on their ballots.

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