Arizona Supreme Court abortion ruling supercharges 2024 race

Former President Donald Trump‘s attempt to delicately handle the abortion problem plaguing the GOP backfired in the wake of an Arizona Supreme Court ruling that upheld a Civil War-era law banning the majority of abortions in the state.

Trump stated that in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision striking down Roe v. Wade, states had the responsibility to determine when to restrict or allow abortion access.

But the Arizona ruling on Tuesday allowing an 1864 law that has no exceptions for rape or incest and punishes abortion providers with a prison sentence to be enforced complicates not just Trump’s opinion on abortion, but how the 2024 race will be decided.

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Trump said he would not sign a national abortion ban and claimed the Arizona ruling went too far during a surprise press conference on Wednesday before an Atlanta, Georgia, fundraiser.

“It’s all about state’s rights. It’ll be straightened out,” Trump told reporters. “I’m sure the governor and everybody else are going to bring it back within reason.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as he visits a Chick-fil-A, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia. (AP Photo/Jason Allen)

The Trump campaign previously evaded questioning from the Washington Examiner and other media outlets on what Trump would do regarding abortion if elected for a second term. “President Trump could not have been more clear. These are decisions for people of each state to make,” said Karoline Leavitt, Trump’s national press secretary. 

However, Trump’s comments later Wednesday were his most forthright stance on abortion since he released a video statement on the issue via Truth Social. Throughout the GOP primary season, the former president vacillated between embracing his status as an anti-abortion leader and disavowing six-week abortion bans in states such as Florida.

The Biden campaign first taunted Trump over the refusal to answer follow-up questions on his abortion stance Wednesday morning, before denouncing Trump’s comments while in Atlanta.

“Donald Trump owns the suffering and chaos happening right now, including in Arizona, because he proudly overturned Roe — something he called ‘an incredible thing’ and ‘pretty amazing’ just today,” Biden communications director Michael Tyler said in a statement.

Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of Women’s March, told the Washington Examiner that Trump’s stances on abortion are not credible because he is a “liar.”

“He is very clear that he gutted Roe and he has become less clear about his vision on this, as the Republicans have wrapped up loss after loss, unmitigated and unbroken since the Dobbs decision,” Carmona said.

“What an individual Arizona voter thinks, I think is one thing, but what I do know is that when Americans go to the polls, abortion access wins, reproductive freedom wins,” Carmona continued. “And there’s a reason why all of these bans and all of these decisions are happening through packed courts, and it’s because these bans cannot stand on merit.”

Anger over abortion restrictions hampered GOP candidates nationwide since the 2022 midterm elections, the first major elections held after Roe was overturned. It hasn’t helped Republicans that Trump has repeatedly bragged about appointing the three conservative Supreme Court justices that helped take down Roe.

Democrats have successfully wielded attacks against Republicans as limiting women’s freedom, which Trump hoped to get ahead of when he released his statement on abortion Monday morning.

But President Joe Biden could win Arizona, a key battleground state, and its 11 electoral votes for a second time if he can galvanize voters upset over the abortion ruling to vote for him. Biden narrowly won the state in 2020 against Trump by less than 11,000 votes.

It could also boost Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) who is running for the open Senate seat, which could help Democrats keep control of the upper chamber, after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) declined to run for reelection.

Abortion-rights organizers are working to get an amendment that would enshrine abortion into the state constitution on the November ballot. The coalition group Arizona for Abortion Access previously announced it already has more than the needed signatures for the abortion ballot measure.

A Florida Supreme Court ruling allowed a ballot measure on abortion to appear on the ballot in November, giving Democrats some hope they can flip the Sunshine State.

“Abortion was already going to be a top issue going into November because of the strong likelihood of the ballot measure,” said Lorna Romero Ferguson, a Republican political strategist based in Arizona. “But this Arizona Supreme Court ruling just pretty much put more gasoline on the fire and has really made it not only a top issue of the state at the moment but national headlines, international headlines about this ruling.”

“This occurring in Arizona — which, of course, is one of the key battleground states on which the presidential election will hinge — for the Republicans, that’s a very unfortunate occurrence,” said Richard Arenberg, senior fellow in international and public affairs and visiting political science professor at Brown University. “That this court decision should come down now, it kind of creates almost the worst possible issue for them in almost the worst possible place.”

Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris quickly released statements blaming Trump and the GOP for the Arizona abortion ban.

However, some prominent Arizona Republicans have distanced themselves from the ruling, including senatorial candidate Kari Lake.

“I wholeheartedly agree with President Trump — this is a very personal issue that should be determined by each individual state and her people,” Lake, an anti-abortion advocate, said in a statement on Tuesday. “I oppose today’s ruling, and I am calling on Katie Hobbs and the State Legislature to come up with an immediate common sense solution that Arizonans can support.”

“Today’s ruling is a disaster for women and providers,” Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) said in a statement on Tuesday. “In Arizona, our 15 week law protected the rights of women and new life. It respected women and the difficult decision of ending a pregnancy — one I will never personally experience and won’t pretend to understand.”

Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-AZ), who defeated Lake in 2022, called the state Supreme Court ruling “callous” and a “dark day” in a video statement. State Attorney General Kris Mayes said “no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law in this state” in a statement Tuesday.

A Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed Trump beating Biden in Arizona, 39% to 34%. But with abortion center stage, it could hurt Trump.

In 2022, 61% of Arizona voters said abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 6% said it should be illegal in all cases, according to AP VoteCast. In February 2023, a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 62% of Arizonans said abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

“This is going to be super damaging to be quite frank for Republicans in Arizona,” said Ariel Hill-Davis, a Republican strategist and founder of Republican Women for Progress. “And I think the responses in terms of Donald Trump’s statements about they’re going too far, I think Kari Lake’s statements about it, kind of demonstrate that this is going to be a pain point for Republicans on the ballot in Arizona.”

Political experts told the Washington Examiner the best scenario for Trump is for abortion to not be the top issue in the battle for Arizona. Trump needs to “change the subject,” said Arenberg, the political scientist.

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“Looking at Arizona specifically, it’s wise for Republicans to take the territorial law off the table, make it a non-issue when it comes to the election, repeal the law, explain what you stand for when it comes to reasonable abortion limitations, and then move on to the other issues for November,” said Ferguson, the Arizona GOP strategist.

“Because if this continues to percolate, and not be addressed by the legislature by repealing the territorial law, they’re just going to continue to get hammered by this issue every single day leading up to the election,” she added.

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