Abortion in Arizona: Measure to repeal near-total ban passes in state Senate

Democrats secured enough votes in the Arizona Senate on Wednesday to repeal a Civil War-era ban on abortions that the state's highest court recently allowed to take effect.

In all, two Republican Party lawmakers - TJ Shope of Coolidge and Shawnna Bolick of Phoenix - sided with Democrats in voting in favor of a bill that repeals the ban. That bill narrowly cleared the Arizona House last week. Bolick's husband, Clint, is one of the Arizona Supreme Court justices who ruled the near-total ban could be enforced.

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.

The repeal bill is expected to be signed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. If she does sign the bill, 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.

Heated moments seen during proceedings

During Wednesday's proceedings, at least two pro-life activists were escorted out. Meanwhile, a number of State Senators spoke wither in favor of or against the repeal bill.

"I'm not afraid of the abortions that I had," said State Sen. Eva Burch (D). "I do not fear for my soul. They were the right decisions for me, and I don’t have to follow your religion in this country."

"We, as Republicans, gave up on the marriage issue. What does the bible say about marriage? Now we're being asked to give up on the life issue. and I guarantee you, it'll be the pedophilia issue next," said State Sen. Anthony Kern (R). Kern is one of a number of people indicted for their alleged role in the fake electors case in Arizona.

GOP state Sen. Jake Hoffman denounced Republican colleagues for joining with Democratic colleagues, calling it 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 statue 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.

State leaders react

Arizona state Attorney General Kris Mayes called the vote "a win for freedom in our state," but expressed concern that without an emergency clause, Arizonans would still be subject to the near-total abortion ban for some time.

"Rest assured, my office is exploring every option available to prevent this outrageous 160-year-old law from ever taking effect," she said.

Governor Katie Hobbs also weighed in, saying that she is "glad to see the Senate answered my call and voted to repeal" the bill.

"This total abortion ban would have jailed doctors, threatened the lives of women across our state and stripped millions of Arizonans of their bodily autonomy. The devastating consequences of this archaic ban are why I’ve called for it to be repealed since day one of my administration," read a portion of her statement.

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.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.