ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona Republican lawmakers shut down discussion on proposal to repeal abortion ban

Apr 11, 2024, 6:22 AM | Updated: 6:23 am

Arizona state Rep. Matt Gress speaks to reporters about the abortion ban repeal proposal on Wednesd...

Arizona state Rep. Matt Gress speaks to reporters about the abortion ban repeal proposal on Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Legislature devolved into shouts of “Shame! Shame!” on Wednesday as Republican lawmakers quickly shut down discussion on a proposed repeal of the state’s newly revived 1864 law that criminalizes abortion throughout pregnancy unless a woman’s life is at risk.

The state Supreme Court cleared the way on Tuesday for enforcement of the pre-statehood law. Arizona abortion providers vowed Wednesday to continue service until they’re forced to stop, possibly within weeks.

State legislators convened as pressure mounted from Democrats and some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, for them to intervene.

House Democrats and at least one Republican tried to open discussion on a repeal of the 1864 abortion ban, which holds no exceptions for rape or incest. GOP leaders, who command the majority, cut it off twice and quickly adjourned for the week. Outraged Democrats erupted in finger-waving chants of “Shame! Shame!”

Republican state Rep. Teresa Martinez, of Casa Grande, said there was no reason to rush the debate. She accused Democrats of “screaming at us and engaging in extremist and insurrectionist behavior on the House floor.” The GOP-led Senate briefly convened without debate on abortion.

“We are navigating an extremely complex, emotional and important area of law and policy,” said Martinez, the GOP House whip. “In my opinion, removing healthy babies from healthy mothers is not health care nor reproductive care. Pregnancy is not an illness. It should be celebrated. It is an abortion that terminates life.”

Democratic legislators seized on national interest in the state’s abortion ban.

“We’ve got the eyes of the world watching Arizona right now,” said Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, of Tucson. “We know that the Supreme Court decision yesterday is extreme. And we know that should the 1864 ban on abortion remain a law in Arizona, people will die.”

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs called inaction on the proposed repeal unconscionable.

“Radical legislators protected a Civil War-era total abortion ban that jails doctors, strips women of our bodily autonomy and puts our lives at risk,” she said.

Three Republican legislators openly oppose the ban, including state Rep. Matt Gress, of Phoenix, who made a motion Wednesday to repeal the law. In a statement, he said the near-total ban “is not reflective of the values of the vast majority of our electorate, regardless of political affiliation. … This issue transcends all.”

According to AP VoteCast, 6 out of 10 Arizona voters in the 2022 midterm elections said they would favor guaranteeing legal abortion nationwide. The state recorded 11,530 abortions in 2022, the last data available, according to Arizona’s Department of Health Services.

At Camelback Family Planning in Phoenix, where about one-fourth of Arizona abortions are performed, registered nurse Ashleigh Feiring said abortion services were still available and that staff hope emergency legislation will avoid interruptions or closure.

“Our plan is to stay open as long as possible,” Feiring said. “Our clinic has been shut down twice in the last four years, but we’ve always resumed service.”

At the same time, anti-abortion groups including SBA Pro-Life America urged Arizona residents to oppose a proposed ballot initiative aimed at placing abortion rights in Arizona’s state constitution.

“They would wipe away all pro-life laws put in place by the Legislature, reflective of the will of the people,” SBA President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement.

Hobbs, however, predicted that outrage will motivate voters to enshrine abortion rights directly in state law.

“The fight is not over, for sure” she said.

Grace Harders drove around metro Phoenix on Wednesday looking for an opportunity to sign an abortion rights petition. She said she wouldn’t know what to do if she had an unplanned pregnancy but knew she’d be scared.

“I’m a pro-choice person, and I want to ensure the right for all women,” Harders said.

Abortion rights advocates said they’ve gathered more than 500,000 signatures for the petition from the Arizona for Abortion Access campaign — far above what they need to add a ballot question asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment protecting the right to abortion until viability, when a fetus could survive outside the womb.

Arriving for a campaign fundraiser in Atlanta, Trump said the Arizona court decision went too far and called on state lawmakers to change it even as he defended the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“It’s all about states’ rights,” the former president told supporters and journalists. “It’ll be straightened out.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, most Republican-controlled states have started enforcing new bans or restrictions, and most Democratic-dominated ones have sought to protect abortion access.

Meanwhile, voters have sided with abortion rights supporters on statewide ballot measures in California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Ohio and Vermont.

The Arizona ruling suggests doctors can be prosecuted for performing the procedure. The 1864 law carries a sentence of two to five years in prison for doctors or anyone else who assists in an abortion.

“Physicians are now on notice that all abortions, except those necessary to save a woman’s life, are illegal,” the Arizona Supreme Court said in its decision, adding that additional criminal and regulatory sanctions may apply to abortions performed after 15 weeks, the state’s previous time limit for the procedure.

Beyond that, the court ruling also ignited concern that enforcement might interfere with handling miscarriages.

Enforcing the 1864 law won’t begin for at least two weeks. However, plaintiffs in the case — including Planned Parenthood — said the delay could last up to two months, based on an agreement reached in a related case.

Planned Parenthood has said it will offer abortion services up to 15 weeks of pregnancy for at least two more months, in line with an agreement in the related case.

Doctors and clinic leaders are anticipating a scramble across the Southwest region to accommodate Arizona residents as they travel out of state for abortion care.

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Arizona Republican lawmakers shut down discussion on proposal to repeal abortion ban