NATIONAL NEWS

Arizona’s Democratic governor signs a bill to repeal 1864 ban on most abortions

May 1, 2024, 9:33 PM | Updated: May 2, 2024, 7:48 pm

PHOENIX (AP) — Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs has relegated a Civil War-era ban on most abortions to the past by signing a bill Thursday to repeal it.

Hobbs says the move is just the beginning of a fight to protect reproductive health care in Arizona. The repeal of the 1864 law that the state Supreme Court recently reinstated won’t take effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends, which typically happens in June or July.

Abortion rights advocates say they’re hopeful a court will step in to prevent what could be a confusing landscape of access for girls and women across Arizona as laws are introduced and then reversed.

The effort to repeal the long-dormant law, which bans all abortions except those done to save a patient’s life, won final legislative approval Wednesday in a 16-14 vote of the Senate, as two GOP lawmakers joined with Democrats.

Hobbs denounced “a ban that was passed by 27 men before Arizona was even a state, at a time when America was at war over the right to own slaves, a time before women could even vote.”

“This ban needs to be repealed, I said it in 2022 when Roe was overturned, and I said it again and again as governor,” Hobbs said during the bill signing.

In early April, Arizona’s Supreme Court voted to restore the 1864 law that provided no exceptions for rape or incest and allows abortions only if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. The majority opinion suggested doctors could be prosecuted and sentenced to up to five years in prison if convicted.

Democrats, who are the minority in the Legislature, struck back with the help of a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate to advance a repeal in a matter of weeks to Hobbs’ desk.

A crowd of lawmakers — mostly women — joined in the signing ceremony with celebratory airs, including taking selfies and exchanging congratulations among Democrats.

The scene stood in sharp contrast to Wednesday’s vote in the Senate that extended for hours as Republicans described their motivations in personal, emotional and even biblical terms — including graphic descriptions of abortion procedures and amplified audio recordings of a fetal heartbeat.

Meanwhile, across the country, an abortion rights initiative in South Dakota submitted far more signatures than required to make the ballot this fall. In Florida, a ban took effect against most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many people even know they are pregnant.

In Arizona, once the repeal takes effect in the fall, a 2002 statute banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy will become the state’s prevailing abortion law.

Whether the 1864 law will be enforced in the coming months depends on who is asked. 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.

Planned Parenthood Arizona filed a motion Wednesday asking the court to prevent a pause in abortion services until the repeal takes effect. Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes has joined in that action.

The Supreme Court set deadlines next week for briefings on the motion.

On Thursday, former Democratic state Rep. Athena Salman celebrated approval of the repeal she initially proposed in 2019 — three years before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Until then, Arizona’s near-total abortion ban had been blocked because the U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion nationwide. Then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, swiftly made a case for enforcing the 1864 ban.

Still, the law hasn’t been carried out because it was stuck in legal limbo until the Arizona Supreme Court weighed in.

Salman, who resigned in January to lead an abortion rights group, said she can’t stop thinking about what the repeal means for her daughters.

“Future generations will not have to live under the restrictions and the interference that we have had to experience,” she said.

Arizona Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, a Democrat who was key in repealing the ban, said she spent her early years on the Navajo Nation where her parents were schoolteachers and saw firsthand people being denied reproductive rights. The main health care option on the reservation is the Indian Health Service, which operates under the Hyde Amendment that bars the use of federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or threats to the patient’s life.

She said she also watched her sister-in-law struggle with two difficult pregnancies, one that resulted in a stillbirth and a nonviable one in which “they had to make the heartbreaking decision to terminate that pregnancy, because there was no brain development.”

President Joe Biden’s campaign team believes voters’ anger over the fall of Roe v. Wade gave him the political advantage in battleground states like Arizona, where he beat former President Donald Trump by about 10,000 votes.

The issue has divided Republican leaders.

People in the gallery of the Arizona Senate on Wednesday jeered and interrupted Republican Lawmaker Shawnna Bolick as she explained her vote in favor of the repeal.

Republican lawmakers more broadly are considering putting one or more abortion proposals on the November ballot. Such efforts could compete with Democratic-backed efforts to enshrine abortion access in the state constitution — up until a fetus could survive outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks, with some exceptions — to save the patient’s life, or to protect her physical or mental health.

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

“This is good for 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.”

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This story has been updated to correct how the second of the two difficult pregnancies Arizona Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton’s sister-in-law experienced ended. The second pregnancy was terminated as it was nonviable; it did not result in a stillbirth.

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Arizona’s Democratic governor signs a bill to repeal 1864 ban on most abortions