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News / Nation & World

Arizona governor set to sign repeal of near-total abortion ban from 1864

Published: May 2, 2024, 8:44am

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona is waving goodbye to a Civil War-era ban of nearly all abortions as a repeal bill reaches the desk of Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

Hobbs says the repeal, scheduled for signing on Thursday, is just the beginning of a fight to protect reproductive healthcare in Arizona. But the repeal may not take effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session, in June or July. Abortion rights advocates hope a court will step in to prevent that outcome.

The effort to repeal the ban won final legislative approval Wednesday in a 16-14 vote of the Senate, as two GOP lawmakers joined with Democrats.

The vote extended for hours as senators described their motivations in personal, emotional and even biblical terms — including graphic descriptions of abortion procedures and amplified audio recordings of a fetal heartbeat, along with warnings against the dangers of “legislating religious beliefs.”

At the same time Wednesday, supporters of a South Dakota abortion rights initiative submitted far more signatures than required to make the ballot this fall, while in Florida a ban took effect against most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.

Democratic Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, an opponent of the near-total abortion ban, has said the earliest the dormant abortion-ban law could be enforced is June 27, though she has asked the state’s highest court to block enforcement until sometime in late July. But the anti-abortion group defending the ban, Alliance Defending Freedom, maintains county prosecutors can begin enforcing it once the Supreme Court’s decision becomes final, which hasn’t yet occurred.

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 law first approved in 1864, which carries a sentence of two to five years in prison for anyone who assists in an abortion.

A repeal means that a 2022 statute banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy would become Arizona’s prevailing abortion law.

Physician Ronald Yunis, a Phoenix-based obstetrician gynecologist who also provides abortions, called the repeal a positive development for women who might otherwise leave Arizona for medical care.

“This is good for ensuring that ensuring that women won’t have to travel to other states just to get the health care they need,” Yunis said. “I was not too concerned because I have a lot of confidence in our governor and attorney general. I’m certain they will continue finding ways to protect women.”

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.

President Joe Biden’s campaign team believes anger over the fall of Roe v. Wade gives them a political advantage in battleground states like Arizona, while the issue has divided Republican leaders.

Abortion-ban advocates in the Senate on Wednesday gallery jeered and interrupted state Republican state Sen. Shawnna Bolick as she explained her vote in favor of repeal, joining with Democrats. Bolick is married to state Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, who voted in April to allow a 1864 law on abortion to be enforced again. He confronts a retention election in November.

The 19th century law had been blocked since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion nationwide.

After Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, then-Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, persuaded a state judge that the 1864 ban could be enforced. Still, the law hasn’t actually been enforced while the case was making its way through the courts.

Planned Parenthood Arizona filed a motion Wednesday afternoon that asks the state Supreme Court to prevent a pause in abortion services until the Legislature’s repeal takes effect.

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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.