POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Arizona Senate votes to repeal Civil War-era near-total abortion ban

May 1, 2024, 2:44 PM | Updated: 5:55 pm

Members of Arizona for Abortion Access, the ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the Ar...

Members of Arizona for Abortion Access, the ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the Arizona State Constitution, hold a press conference and protest condemning Arizona House Republicans and the 1864 abortion ban on April 17 in Phoenix. (Rebecca Noble, Getty Images)

(Rebecca Noble, Getty Images)

(CNN) The Arizona Senate on Wednesday voted to repeal the state’s 160-year-old near-total abortion ban, three weeks after the state Supreme Court revived the law and thrust reproductive rights into the political spotlight.

The vote comes a week after three Republicans joined with all 29 Democrats in the state House to repeal the law, which bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy except to save the life of the mother and threatens abortion providers with two to five year prison sentences.

The bill next heads to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who is expected to sign it. It would clear the way for the state’s 15-week limit to remain state law. That restriction, enacted in 2022, does not include exceptions for rape and incest.

Republicans, who hold one-seat majorities in the state House and Senate, have faced increasing pressure to repeal what’s known within the state as both the pre-Roe and the territorial ban, a reference to the law predating Roe v. Wade and Arizona statehood.

Prominent Republicans, including former Gov. Doug Ducey, former President Donald Trump and Senate candidate Kari Lake, have called on the legislature to take action to moderate the ban.

If that law is repealed, the immediate future of abortion access in the state is unclear. The court’s April 9 decision reviving the pre-Roe ban has been stayed and wouldn’t be enforceable until June 27 at the earliest, according to the state’s Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes. The repeal, however, would not go into effect until 90 days after the Arizona legislature adjourns.

On Tuesday, Mayes asked the Arizona Supreme Court to grant her office an additional 90 days to consider whether it wants to appeal the court’s decision to the US Supreme Court.

The Civil War-era ban was first introduced in 1864 and codified in 1901, before Arizona gained statehood in 1912. The law remained in effect until 1973, when it was blocked by a court injunction after the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Months before Roe was overturned in June 2022, the state passed a 15-week limit, which explicitly stated that it would not overrule the pre-Roe ban. On April 9, the state Supreme Court ruled that the ban should be the state law.

For abortion rights advocates, repeal would be the culmination of years of activism. Democrats first introduced legislation to repeal the territorial ban in 2019.

Even if the ban is repealed, Democrats argue the 15-week limit and its lack of exceptions for rape or incest is still unpopular. At the state legislature-level, they plan to target vulnerable House Republicans over their past anti-abortion votes.

Republicans hope that the 15-week limit would be more palatable to voters and help neutralize the strength of reproductive rights as a voting issue.

“There’s still fallout for sure,” said Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based GOP strategist. “But that the territorial ban is no longer the law of the land will absolutely help Republicans.”

In addition to being a presidential and US Senate battleground, Arizona has two toss-up US House races and a handful of competitive state legislature contests that could decide control of the state House and Senate. Democrats have not held both legislative chambers since the 1960s.

Abortion rights advocates are also gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution.

Still, repeal would be a blow to abortion opponents, who have rallied at the state capitol in recent weeks and praised the ban. Several Arizona House members, including House Speaker Ben Toma, spoke out against the repeal last week.

“I am disgusted today,” state Rep. Rachel Jones said last week. “Life is one of the tenants of our Republican platform. To see people go back on that value is egregious to me.”


Contributing: Natasha Chen and Jason Kravarik, CNN 

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Arizona Senate votes to repeal Civil War-era near-total abortion ban