Arizona Republicans block effort to rush repeal of 1864 state abortion ban

Infighting in the Arizona GOP is thwarting attempts from Democrat and centrist Republican lawmakers in the state legislature to repeal the Civil War-era law that prohibits nearly all abortions.

The conflict is the fallout of a landmark decision from the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the 1864 abortion ban that prevents abortion except for cases of “immediate” danger to the mothers must supersede the more moderate 15 weeks’ gestation abortion limitation that was passed by the GOP-majority legislature in 2022.

Despite prior statements from House Speaker Ben Toma suggesting that he would support a repeal effort, legislation from Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton to overturn the ban was blocked twice by Republicans in the chamber.

“Republican members rumored to support the repeal chickened out and voted to adjourn instead,” a spokesperson for the Arizona House Democrats posted on Twitter. “We won’t stop fighting for reproductive freedom in Arizona.”

The slim Republican majority in both chambers of the state legislature appears unlikely to allow any immediate action to repeal the 19th-century abortion ban before it takes effect on April 23.

The 1864 ban criminalizes all abortions except for in “immediate” emergencies, with penalties of two to five years in state prison, and has no exceptions for rape or incest.

Efforts in the Senate also broke down on Wednesday, sparking chaos on the chamber floor as Democrats broke into chants of “save women’s lives.”

Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-AZ) called on the legislature to act swiftly to overturn the 1864 ban.

“They could gavel in today and make a motion to repeal this ban,” Hobbs said in an interview with CBS. “I’m hopeful that they will because this will have devastating consequences for Arizona.”

Protecting abortion access became a key pillar of the Hobbs administration during the multi-year litigation over whether the 1864 or 2022 abortion restrictions should take effect following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that overturned federal protections for abortion.

On the one-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision, Hobbs issued an executive order to centralize abortion prosecutions under the state attorney general’s office rather than among the 15 county attorneys–a move to prevent prosecutions under the 15-week abortion ban.

At that time, Hobbs promised she would “not allow extreme and out of touch politicians to get in the way of the fundamental rights of Arizonans.”

Senate President Warren Petersen and Toma issued a joint statement following the high court’s ruling saying that there is “at least a 60-day waiting period before any change in the existing law occurs.”

“During this time, we will be closely reviewing the court’s ruling, talking to our members, and listening to our constituents to determine the best course of action for the legislature,” wrote the Republican leadership.

Federal politicians and political hopefuls from Arizona, however, have criticized the abortion ban and have called for its repeal.

Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) called the law “archaic” and “a disaster for women and providers,” instead supporting the 15-week ban as a measure that “respected women and the difficult decision of ending a pregnancy.”

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Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) also expressed disapproval, encouraging the legislature to “address this issue immediately.”

Former gubernatorial candidate and current Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake called on Hobbs and the legislature to pass legislation revising the law.

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