Arizona votes to undo near-total abortion ban from 1864

Fourteen Democrats in the Senate were joined by two Republican votes in favour of repealing the Bill.

Pro-life demonstrators in the front of the Arizona Capitol prior to the vote (Ross D Franklin/AP)
Pro-life demonstrators in the front of the Arizona Capitol prior to the vote (Ross D Franklin/AP) (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

The Arizona legislature approved a repeal of a long-dormant ban on nearly all abortions on Wednesday, advancing the Bill to Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs, who is expected to sign it.

Two Republicans joined Democrats in the Senate on the 16-14 vote in favour of repealing a Civil War-era ban on abortions that the state’s highest court recently allowed to take effect. The repeal Bill narrowly cleared the Arizona House last week.

Ms Hobbs said in a statement that she looks forward to quickly signing the repeal into law.

“The devastating consequences of this archaic ban are why I’ve called for it to be repealed since day one of my administration,” she said.

“Arizona women should not have to live in a state where politicians make decisions that should be between a woman and her doctor,” Ms Hobbs continued.

“While this repeal is essential for protecting women’s lives, it is just the beginning of our fight to protect reproductive healthcare in Arizona.”

The revival of the 19th century law had put Republicans on the defensive in a battleground state for the presidential election.

“Across the country, women are living in a state of chaos and cruelty caused by Donald Trump,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement on Wednesday.

“What is happening in Arizona is just the latest example,” she continued. “While Arizona Democrats have worked to clean up the devastating mess created by Trump and his extremist allies, the state’s existing ban, with no exception for rape or incest, remains in effect.”

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 likely be a period when nearly all abortions would be outlawed, because the repeal will not take effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session, likely in June or July.

Arizona state Attorney General Kris Mayes called the vote “a win for freedom in our state,” but expressed concern that without an emergency clause, Arizonans would still be subject to the near total-abortion ban for some time.

“Rest assured, my office is exploring every option available to prevent this outrageous 160-year-old law from ever taking effect,” she said.

The near-total ban on abortions, which predates Arizona’s statehood, permits abortions only to save the patient’s life — and provides no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest. In a ruling last month, the Arizona Supreme Court suggested doctors could be prosecuted under the 1864 law, which says that anyone who assists in an abortion can be sentenced to two to five years in prison.

Voting on the bill stretched more than an hour, amid impassioned speeches about the motivations behand individual votes.

“This is about the Civil War-era ban that criminalises doctors and makes virtually all abortions illegal, the ban that the people of Arizona overwhelmingly don’t want,” said Democratic state Senator Eva Burch. “We’re here to repeal a bad law. I don’t want us honouring laws about women written during a time when women were forbidden from voting because their voices were considered inferior to men.”

There were numerous disruptions from people in Senate gallery, as Republican state Senator Shawnna Bolick explained her vote in favour of repeal, joining with Democrats.

GOP state Senator Jake Hoffman denounced Republican colleagues for joining with Democratic colleagues, calling it an affront to his party’s principles.

“It is disgusting that this is the state of the Republican Party today,” Mr Hoffman said.

Advocates on both sides of the abortion issue arrived outside the Arizona Senate on Wednesday to emphasise their views. They included people affiliated with Planned Parenthood and faith-based groups opposed to abortion.

A school-age girl kneeled in prayer in front of a table holding a large statue of the Virgin Mary, while a man with a megaphone shouted at passersby to repent.

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

Planned Parenthood officials vowed to continue providing abortions for the short time they are still legal and said they will reinforce networks that help patients travel out of state to places such as New Mexico and California to access abortion.

Advocates are collecting signatures for a ballot measure allowing abortions until a foetus could survive outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks, with exceptions — to save the parent’s life, or to protect her physical or mental health.

Republican politicians, 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 are pregnant.

House Republicans have not yet publicly released any such proposed ballot measures.