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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Arizona Senate votes to repeal 1864 near-total abortion ban

The fate of abortion rights in Arizona now lies in the pen of Governor Katie Hobbs, who has already vowed to sign the bill repealing the Civil War-era law.

PHOENIX (CN) — The Civil War-era abortion ban reimposed on Arizonans just three weeks ago is now a governor’s signature away from being repealed. 

A week after the state House voted to pass a bill that would repeal the near-total ban, the state Senate followed suit Wednesday, with key votes from Republicans swaying the vote in Democrats’ favor.

Though Republicans have a one-seat majority in the Senate, two Republicans, T.J. Shope of Coolidge and Shawna Bolick of Phoenix sided with Democrats to result in a 16-14 vote in favor of the repeal.

With support from both chambers of the Legislature, House Bill 2677 is now on its way to Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, who has previously pledged to sign the repeal bill into law. 

Bolick took nearly 25 minutes to explain her vote, telling stories of three of her own unsuccessful pregnancies while also criticizing Hobbs and Planned Parenthood. She framed her vote to repeal this law and return to the previous post-15-week ban as an alternative to giving more momentum to a 2024 ballot initiative that, if supported in November, would enshrine the right to abortion in the state Constitution.

“Until we have a better choice in this matter, I side with saving more babies’ lives," Bolick said. I want to protect our state Constitution from unlimited abortions up until the moment of birth with Planned Parenthood’s Abortion Access Act. I am here to protect more babies. I vote aye."

She and other Republicans repeatedly characterized the initiative as legalizing "unlimited abortions" up until or even during a baby's birth. But the language of the initiative provides protections for abortions only up to fetal viability, which is typically 23 to 24 weeks — not the full 40 weeks pregnancies typically last.

The initiative has already received more than 500,000 signatures.

Republican Senator Anthony Kern of Glendale called Bolick's reasoning “the epitome of delusion” for voting against the anti-abortion party and “the word of God,” holding an open Bible over his head. 

"If you have had an abortion, there is forgiveness at the cross of Jesus Christ," he said to the members of the gallery.

Later outside the Senate, Kern said the Republican Party's only option is to "defeat the ballot measure and defeat the two senators that voted with the Democrats."

"The Democrats are a party of death," he said. "Everything they touch dies."

Republican Arizona Senators Anthony Kern of Glendale and Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu challenge a procedural ruling that allow a bill repealing the state's abortion ban to go receive a vote on May 1, 2024. (Joe Duhownik/Courthouse News)

Lawmakers were especially hostile toward one another throughout the three-hour session. Shope, one of the two dissenting Republicans, called Republican Senator Jake Hoffman of Queen Creek an “asshole” after Hoffman squabbled with Senate President Warren Petersen over a procedural issue. Hoffman didn't seem to hear the comment. Shope never rose to explain his vote, and ducked out of the Senate floor before reporters could question him. He wrote in April in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he believes 15 weeks is a reasonable timeline for legal abortions.

Hoffman tried to amend the bill to include a requirement that a doctor providing an abortion as a result of rape or incest be required to report to law enforcement. But his attempt was blocked by Petersen, a Republican from Gilbert, because a vote had already begun.

Known as the territorial ban, the current law contains no exceptions for rape or incest, but allows exceptions only if the life of the mother is in imminent danger. It was first enacted decades before Arizona was a state or any women could vote, and became viable again following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That decision overturned 50 years of precedent set by the high court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, returning the abortion issue to the power of the states. 

After two years of litigation, the Arizona Supreme Court declared it the law of the land in a 4-2 decision in early April. 

Republicans have repeatedly called the characterization of the ban as "Civil War era" or "1864" a false narrative, given that it was "recodified" in 1977 by a Democrat-controlled Legislature. Senator Anna Hernandez, Democrat from Phoenix, rejected that argument. She said the bill was just one of many on a 118-page list that needed to be renumbered for technical corrections. She said the language of the bill remained the same since 1864.

While Hobbs can now finish the job with a stroke of her pen, the repeal won’t take effect for 90 days after the end of the legislative session, which could be a matter of months, as the legislature still has to finalize a budget. While the session is supposed to be only 100 days, last year's legislative session meandered into August. 

That means there may still be overlap in which the law — set to go into effect on June 8 — will be enforceable before it’s removed from the books. 

On Tuesday, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes filed a motion asking the state Supreme Court to stay enforcement for another 90 days to give her time to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state high court’s decision. The state court denied her motion for reconsideration on Friday. 

“The Arizona Supreme Court’s decision in the 1864 case relied on a statute that a federal court has enjoined as unconstitutionally vague,” Mayes said in a statement. “This raises serious federal questions under the Due Process and Supremacy Clauses. My office needs time to thoroughly evaluate these issues before deciding whether or not to ask the United States Supreme Court to review our state court’s decision.”

Hobbs celebrated the repeal in a press release soon after the vote.

"I look forward to quickly signing the repeal into law," she wrote.

Follow @JournalistJoeAZ
Categories / Government, Health, Politics, Regional

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