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May 3, 2024

Arizona Governor Repeals 1864 Abortion Ban: What It Means for Reproductive Rights

Democratic Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs has taken a significant step in the fight for reproductive rights by signing a bill repealing a Civil War-era ban on most abortions. The move, which occurred on Thursday, marks a pivotal moment in Arizona’s abortion legislation, potentially reshaping the state’s approach to reproductive health care.

Hobbs sees this repeal as just the beginning of a broader effort to safeguard reproductive rights in Arizona. However, the repeal may not come into effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends, likely in June or July. Abortion rights advocates are hopeful that the courts will intervene to prevent any delay in implementation.

The effort to repeal the long-standing law, which only permitted abortions to save a patient’s life, saw bipartisan support in the Arizona Senate, with a 16-14 vote in favor. This vote followed hours of emotional debate, with senators invoking personal, emotional, and even biblical arguments. The discussion included graphic descriptions of abortion procedures and warnings against legislating based on religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, other states have been making moves on abortion legislation. In South Dakota, supporters of an abortion rights initiative submitted more than enough signatures to make the ballot this fall. In Florida, a ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy recently took effect, raising concerns about access to abortion care.

Democratic Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a vocal opponent of near-total abortion bans, has indicated that the dormant abortion ban law could potentially be enforced as early as June 27. However, she has requested the state’s highest court to block enforcement until late July. On the other hand, anti-abortion groups argue that enforcement could begin once the Supreme Court’s decision becomes final.

The nearly century-old ban, which predates Arizona’s statehood, lacked exceptions for cases of rape or incest. In a recent ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court suggested that doctors could be prosecuted under this law, which carries a prison sentence of two to five years for anyone assisting in an abortion.

The repeal of this ban would mean that Arizona’s prevailing abortion law would revert to a 2022 statute, which restricts the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This move aligns with President Joe Biden’s campaign strategy, leveraging the backlash against the fall of Roe v. Wade in battleground states like Arizona.

The repeal faced opposition, with Republican lawmakers divided on the issue. During the Senate debate, Republican Senator Shawnna Bolick, who voted in favor of repeal, faced jeers and interruptions from abortion-ban advocates in the gallery. Bolick, married to state Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, who voted to allow the 1864 law on abortion enforcement, faces a retention election in November.

The 19th-century law had remained inactive since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, guaranteeing the constitutional right to an abortion nationwide. However, after Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, then-Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich persuaded a state judge to allow the enforcement of the 1864 ban. Nonetheless, the law hasn’t been enforced pending court proceedings.

Planned Parenthood Arizona has filed a motion asking the state Supreme Court to prevent a pause in abortion services until the repeal takes effect. Advocates are also collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would allow abortions until around 24 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for the parent’s life, physical, or mental health.

In response, Republican lawmakers are considering placing competing abortion proposals on the November ballot. Despite this, Dr. Ronald Yunis, a Phoenix-based obstetrician-gynecologist who provides abortions, views the repeal as a positive development for patients in Arizona. He believes it will prevent women from having to seek medical care in other states and trusts that state officials will continue to protect women’s rights.

The repeal of the 1864 abortion ban in Arizona signifies a crucial victory for reproductive rights advocates, setting the stage for potential changes in the state’s abortion legislation and broader political implications in the upcoming elections.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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