Democrats in Arizona House get enough GOP help to pass bill to repeal near-total abortion ban

Apr 24, 2024, 12:05 PM | Updated: 1:25 pm

Split image of the Arizona flag on the left and state Rep. Matt Gress on the House floor April 24, ...

Arizona state Rep. Matt Gress was one of three Republicans to join Democrats on April 24, 2024, to pass a bill to repeal a near-total abortion ban. (KTAR News Photos)

(KTAR News Photos)

PHOENIX – Arizona House Democrats, with help from a few Republicans, passed a bill Wednesday to repeal the state’s near-total abortion ban.

If the bill gets through the Republican-controlled Senate and is signed into law by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, a 2022 statute banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy would continue as the state’s prevailing law.

“Today, I am glad to see the House follow my calls to repeal the archaic 1864 total abortion ban that could jail doctors and endanger the lives of women in Arizona,” Hobbs said in a statement. “I’m thankful to House Democrats who worked relentlessly for years to repeal this draconian ban. Now, the Senate must do the right thing and send this repeal to my desk.”

The Arizona Supreme Court concluded the state can enforce a long-dormant law that permits abortions only to save the pregnant patient’s life. The ruling suggested doctors could be prosecuted under the law first approved in 1864, which carries a sentence of 2-5 years in prison for anyone who assists in an abortion.

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

Attorney General Kris Mayes has said the earliest the law could be enforced, if it’s not repealed first, is June 8.

“I call on the Senate to quickly follow suit and join the House in repealing this law,” Mayes said in a statement after Wednesday’s House vote. “Unfortunately, without an emergency clause that would allow the repeal to take effect quickly, we may still be looking at a period of time when the 1864 could potentially take effect. My office continues to look at every legal option available to prevent that from ever happening.”

Who crossed aisle to pass bill to repeal near-total abortion ban?

Republican Reps. Matt Gress and Tim Dunn voted with Democrats to remove procedural hurdles, allowing the repeal bill to come to a final vote Wednesday. GOP Rep. Justin Wilmeth then joined Gress and Dunn to make the final tally 32-28. Republicans control the House by a 31-29 margin.

“As someone who is both pro-life and the product of strong women in my life, I refuse to buy into the false notion pushed by the extremes on both sides of this issue that we cannot respect and protect women and defend new life at the same time,” Gress said in a statement.

Republicans had used procedural votes to block earlier repeal efforts.

After the bill passed, a motion to speed up the process by sending it immediately to the Senate failed.

House Republican leader disappointed with repeal

House Speaker Ben Toma said he was “deeply disappointed” with the repeal vote, although he didn’t mention his Republican colleagues who crossed the aisle in a lengthy statement.

“We should not have rushed this bill through the legislative process. The pre-Roe law has been on the books for decades and was readopted in 1977 by Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature and signed by Democrat Gov. Raul Castro,” said Toma, who is running for Congress this year.

“It would have been prudent and responsible to allow the courts to decide the constitutionality of the pre-Roe law. Instead, we are rushing to judgment for reasons I simply cannot understand.”

Dozens of people gathered outside the state Capitol before the House and Senate were scheduled to meet, then filled seats in the public gallery as lawmakers voted, many of them carrying signs or wearing shirts showing their opposition to abortion rights.

Arizona Republicans have been under intense pressure from some conservatives in their base, who firmly support the abortion ban, even as it’s become a liability with swing voters who will decide crucial races including the presidency, the U.S. Senate and the GOP’s control of the Legislature.

Proposed Arizona ballot initiative would ensure abortion rights

Regardless of how it plays out in the Legislature, Arizona voters will likely have their say in the matter in November.

The Arizona for Abortion Access act, an initiative that would essentially revert state abortion law to the standard of Roe v. Wade, is expected to qualify for the Nov. 5 ballot.

“Even with the repeal of the Civil War-era ban, the state will still have a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy that denies people access to critical care. And lawmakers continue to attack Arizonans’ ability to access reproductive health care. Our right to control our bodies and lives is hanging on by a thread,” Angela Florez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, said in a statement.

“Thankfully, voters will have the opportunity to take back control if the Arizona Abortion Access Act is on the ballot this November.”

Republican lawmakers, in turn, are considering putting one or more competing abortion proposals on the November ballot.

A leaked planning document outlined the approaches being considered by House Republicans, such as codifying existing abortion regulations, proposing a 14-week ban that would be “disguised as a 15-week law” because it would allow abortions until the beginning of the 15th week, and a measure that would prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Democrats in Arizona House get enough GOP help to pass bill to repeal near-total abortion ban