Factbox-Abortion rights advocates eye more statewide victories in 2024

Voters in Ohio decide whether to enshrine abortion protections into the state constitution, in Columbus

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) -Abortion rights advocates are looking to extend their winning streak this year, with efforts underway to place the issue before voters in November's election in nearly a dozen states.

The list includes swing states such as Arizona, Nevada and Florida, which are all expected to play a crucial role in the presidential contest that will headline November's ballot.

Abortion has become a galvanizing issue for Democrats and a political liability for Republicans. Since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated a nationwide right to abortion in 2022, seven states have voted in favor of abortion access, including conservative strongholds like Ohio and Kansas.

The issue was widely credited with forestalling a Republican wave in 2022, as well as propelling Democrats to victories in Kentucky and Virginia last year. It is expected to be a dominant theme in this year's presidential race and other political campaigns.

Here are the states where abortion could be on the ballot:

ARIZONA

Arizona for Abortion Access, a coalition of reproductive rights groups, has collected more than 250,000 of the approximately 384,000 signatures needed by July to put a measure on November's ballot that would guarantee abortion rights, according to a spokesperson, Chris Love.

If approved, the referendum would amend the state constitution to protect abortion rights up to fetal viability, generally around 23 or 24 weeks.

Abortions are banned after 15 weeks of pregnancy in Arizona.

Arizona is expected once again to be a presidential battleground, and it will also see one of the country's most competitive U.S. Senate races.

FLORIDA

Floridians Protecting Freedom, a coalition of reproductive rights groups, has already gathered more than 900,000 valid signatures, enough to qualify a measure protecting abortion rights for November's ballot.

However, the referendum must first pass muster with the Florida Supreme Court, which heard arguments on Feb. 7 over whether to approve the measure's language.

State Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, has asked the court to block the referendum as misleading and vague. Several of the court's seven justices - all Republicans - expressed skepticism of the state's position during oral arguments.

Unlike most states, constitutional amendments in Florida must pass with at least 60% of the vote, a higher threshold of support than any statewide abortion measure has yet received.

Currently, abortions are banned after 15 weeks in Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis signed a far stricter six-week limit last year, but that law only takes effect if the state Supreme Court upholds the earlier 15-week ban, which is the subject of a pending legal challenge.

NEVADA

In Nevada, abortion rights groups will formally kick off their signature-gathering effort on Saturday with a Las Vegas rally as they aim to put a constitutional amendment to protect abortion on November's ballot. Organizers need to submit more than 100,000 valid signatures by late June.

State law already offers similar protections, but adding them to the state constitution would make it harder to roll them back in the future. Voters would need to approve the measure twice - this year and again in 2026 - to amend the constitution.

Nevada has been a closely contested state in recent presidential races and will also play host to a competitive U.S. Senate election in 2024.

OTHER STATES

In Missouri, South Dakota and Arkansas - all deeply conservative states where virtually all abortions have been banned - organizers are collecting signatures for ballot initiatives that would enshrine abortion rights into state constitutions.

A similar campaign is underway in Nebraska, where abortions are largely illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Ballot initiative drives are also ongoing in Montana and Colorado, both states where abortion remains legal under state law. Advocates say that adding abortion rights to the state constitutions would ensure that lawmakers or courts could not roll them back in the future.

In Montana, however, the proposed ballot measure is on hold after the state's Republican attorney general deemed the language legally insufficient. Supporters of the effort have petitioned the state Supreme Court to reverse his decision.

While not a presidential battleground, Montana is expected to see a highly competitive U.S. Senate race this year.

There are two states where abortion-related measures are already assured of appearing on the ballot: New York and Maryland. In both states, abortion is already legal under state law, and the Democratic-controlled legislatures have approved referendums that would amend their state constitutions to add additional protections.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Andrea Ricci)