May 27th, 2024

Arizona’s Democratic leaders make final push to repeal 19th century abortion ban

By Anita Snow, The Associated Press on May 1, 2024.

PHOENIX (AP) – Democrats in the Arizona Legislature are expected to make a final push Wednesday to repeal the state’s long-dormant ban on nearly all abortions, which a court said can be enforced.

Voting wasn’t complete but the Senate had the 16 votes it needed to advance the bill.

Fourteen Democrats in the Senate were joined by two Republican votes in favor of repealing the bill, which narrowly cleared the Arizona House last week and is expected to be signed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

The near-total ban, which predates Arizona’s statehood, permits abortions only to save the patient’s life – and provides no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest. In a ruling last month, the Arizona Supreme Court suggested doctors could be prosecuted under the 1864 law, which says that anyone who assists in an abortion can be sentenced to two to five years in prison.

If the repeal bill is signed, a 2022 statute banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy would become Arizona’s prevailing abortion law. Still, there would likely be a period when nearly all abortions would be outlawed, because the repeal won’t take effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session, likely in June or July.

Several senators spoke about their motivations to votes as numbers were tallied on the repeal bill.

“This is a clear statement that the Legislature does not want the territorial ban to be enforceable,” said Democratic state Sen. Priya Sundareshan, who voted yes to repeal.

There were numerous disruptions from people in Senate gallery, as Republican state Sen. Shawnna Bolick explained her vote in favor of repeal, joining with Democrats.

Two Republican senators joined with Democrats to bring a repeal bill to the floor for discussion and a possible vote. GOP state Sen. Jake Hoffman denounced the maneuver as an affront to his party’s principles.

“It is disgusting that this is the state of the Republican Party today,” Hoffman said.

Advocates on both sides of the abortion issue arrived outside the Arizona Senate on Wednesday to emphasize their views. They included people affiliated with Planned Parenthood and faith-based groups opposed to abortion.

A school-age girl kneeled in prayer in front of a table holding a large statute of the Virgin Mary, while a man with a megaphone shouted at passersby to repent.

“I am expecting it will be repealed, but I am praying it won’t be,” said Karen Frigon, who was handing out brochures from the Arizona Right to Life.

Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes, who opposes enforcement of the 19th century law, has said that the earliest the state can enforce the law is June 27, though she has asked the state’s highest court to block enforcement for a three-month period ending sometime in late July. The anti-abortion group defending the ban, Alliance Defending Freedom, maintains that county prosecutors can begin enforcing it once the state Supreme Court’s decision becomes final, which hasn’t yet occurred.

Arizona is one of a handful of battleground states that will decide the next president. Former President Donald Trump, who has warned that the issue could lead to Republican losses, has avoided endorsing a national abortion ban but said he’s proud to have appointed the Supreme Court justices who allowed states to outlaw it.

The law had been blocked since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion nationwide.

When Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022 though, then-Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, persuaded a state judge that the 1864 ban could again be enforced. Still, the law hasn’t actually been enforced while the case was making its way through the courts. Mayes, who succeeded Brnovich, urged the state’s high court against reviving the law.

Planned Parenthood officials vowed to continue providing abortions for the short time they are still legal and said they will reinforce networks that help patients travel out of state to places like New Mexico and California to access abortion.

Advocates are collecting signatures for a ballot measure allowing abortions until a fetus could survive outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks, with exceptions – to save the parent’s life, or to protect her physical or mental health.

Republican lawmakers, in turn, are considering putting one or more competing abortion proposals on the November ballot.

A leaked planning document outlined the approaches being considered by House Republicans, such as codifying existing abortion regulations, proposing a 14-week ban that would be “disguised as a 15-week law” because it would allow abortions until the beginning of the 15th week, and a measure that would prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant.

House Republicans have not yet publicly released any such proposed ballot measures.

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