Arizona Democrats Consider 3rd Attempt to Repeal 1864 Abortion Law

By Equipo
6 Min Read

Democratic lawmakers in Arizona on Wednesday will try for a third time to repeal an 1864 law outlawing abortion, plunging the Republican-controlled State Legislature back into a divisive election-year battle over abortion rights.

The previous attempts to undo the Civil War-era ban ended in chaotic failure after Republican leaders beat back efforts by Democrats and a handful of members of their own party.

Democrats said that this time they were hunting for new support and looking for other maneuvers to bring their repeal measure to a vote. But it was unclear whether any additional Republican lawmakers were willing to defy their own leaders and powerful anti-abortion groups and force a vote in the House, which is narrowly divided.

“There’s too much time for second-guessing and too many moving parts,” said Representative Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, a Democrat who has introduced a one-sentence measure to repeal the 1864 law. Her bill has yet to get a vote.

The Legislature’s unwillingness to undo the law, which has galvanized activists and which many voters call outdated and extreme, has created a rift within the Republican Party. The measure would not go into effect before June 8, said Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat.

Prominent Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump, have urged the Legislature to scrap the law, hoping to refocus the political conversation on immigration and inflation. But stalwart abortion opponents who hold sway in Arizona have urged Republican state lawmakers not to overturn the ban. They say it is a good law that protects women and babies.

“I am really pleased that we have that law,” said State Senator David Farnsworth, a Republican who opposes repeal. “I’ve been criticized for my stance, but I’ve always said I’m 100 percent pro-life. I believe strongly in biblical teachings.”

So far, not enough Republican lawmakers have been willing to defy their party’s leaders and support procedural measures to force a repeal vote.

Political analysts said Republicans who voted to go around their leaders risked alienating their own voters in conservative districts, as well as jeopardizing their other priorities as the Legislature starts working to pass Arizona’s annual budget.

The House speaker, Ben Toma, a Republican who cast a decisive vote against a repeal bill last week, has said that he does not support repealing the law. He has significant control over which bills get a hearing or vote.

“I happen to think that abortion is wrong,” Mr. Toma said in an interview last week. “It comes down to: What do I think is right? What is just? What is ethical? And I have made my decision. And I am not going to change my mind.”

Even with repeal efforts stalled in the House, Democrats and a handful of Republicans managed to introduce a similar repeal measure in the State Senate. That bill is expected to take a procedural step forward on Wednesday, lawmakers said.

On Tuesday, some lawmakers who support repealing the ban said that they were calling their allies and reaching out to Republicans who might change their votes.

“I’ve been told we should be able to get it done tomorrow, but anything can happen,” Ms. Stahl Hamilton said. “This is particularly frustrating. I don’t want to lose my resolve to try and get this done.”

The fight over the 1864 ban has consumed Arizona politics since the State Supreme Court revived it on April 9, saying that it could be enforced even though Arizona had also passed a law two years ago that allowed abortions through 15 weeks.

The 1864 law prohibits abortions from the moment of conception, except to save the mother’s life. It does not make exceptions for rape or incest.

The court put its ruling temporarily on hold, meaning that abortions have been allowed to continue under the rules that have been in place in Arizona since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022. Abortion providers, who face two to five years in prison if convicted under the 1864 law, said they were likely to stop performing all abortions once it takes effect.

But there is growing tension and disagreement over when, exactly, that might be.

Ms. Mayes has said that she will not enforce the law. She also said that her office was exploring other legal challenges that could delay its implementation beyond June 8.

On Tuesday night, Ms. Mayes asked the State Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on the grounds that Arizona’s 15-week law permits abortions up to that point.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group that argued in court to uphold the ban, said it believed county prosecutors could start enforcing the law this week.

Because the legislature is meeting only once a week, lawmakers and abortion providers worry that their window is closing rapidly.

“There is a lot of concern,” said State Senator Eva Burch, a Democrat and nurse practitioner who gave a speech last month describing how she had to get an abortion to terminate a nonviable pregnancy. “It’s a scary time to be a pregnant person in Arizona.”

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