Arizona Senate repeals near-total 1864 abortion ban in divisive vote

The repeal of abortion ban was passed 16 to 14 and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Katie Hobbs.

Pro and anti-abortion rights protesters argue outside the Arizona State Capitol as the Senate votes to repeal an 1864 abortion ban
Pro and anti-abortion rights protesters argue outside the Arizona State Capitol as the Senate votes to repeal an 1864 abortion ban [Liliana Salgado/Reuters]

The Arizona Senate has voted to repeal the state’s 1864 ban on abortion, which would otherwise have taken effect within weeks.

The repeal was passed by the Senate in a 16-14 vote on Wednesday and is expected to be signed swiftly by Governor Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. Two Republican senators crossed party lines to vote in favour of repealing the ban.

The Arizona House last week passed the measure after a handful of Republicans broke party ranks and voted with Democrats to send it to the Senate.

“We’re here to repeal a bad law,” Senator Eva Burch, a Democrat, said from the floor. “I don’t want us honouring laws about women, written during a time when women were forbidden from voting.”

Republican Senator Wendy Rogers said in casting her vote to maintain the 1864 ban that repealing the law went against the conservative values of Arizona.

“Life starts at conception. They got it right in 1864. We need to continue to get it right in 2024,” Rogers said.

The fight over the Civil War-era abortion ban in Arizona, a state sharply split between Democrats and Republicans, is the latest flashpoint on women’s reproductive rights in the United States. In 2022, the country’s Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion, leaving it up to states to decide the issue. Conservative-led states quickly invoked strict bans on the procedure within their borders.

Democrats across the US, confident that public opinion is on their side in supporting abortion rights, have sought to elevate the issue ahead of November’s presidential election. Arizona is a key battleground state.

Heather Williams, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee that works to elect Democrats to state legislatures, said her party would capitalise on the “extreme nature of MAGA Arizona Republicans” who voted to maintain the 1864 law as Democrats try to flip the state’s House and Senate in November’s elections.

Rogers, the Republican state senator, acknowledged the political risks.

“Some colleagues would say it’s politically pragmatic for us to find middle ground,” she said. “We might lose the legislature, we might lose the presidential election. But it’s more important to do what’s right.”

Near-total ban on abortions

The 1864 law was revived by a state Supreme Court ruling on April 9, and unless the legislature intervened, it would have taken effect within 60 days of that ruling, according to state Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat.

If the repeal bill is signed, a 2022 statute banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy would become Arizona’s prevailing abortion law. Still, there would probably be a period when nearly all abortions would be outlawed because the repeal would not take effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session, which is expected to be in June or July.

Planned Parenthood Arizona, a sexual health organisation in the state, announced it filed a motion on Wednesday afternoon asking the state Supreme Court to prevent a pause in abortion services until the repeal takes effect.

The near-total ban on abortions predates Arizona becoming a state.

Under the 1864 law, “every person” who participates in conducting an abortion can be held criminally liable and face a minimum sentence of two years in prison.

There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, although there is an exception when the pregnancy puts a woman’s life at risk.

Source: News Agencies