Arizona lawmakers repeal 1864 ban on abortion

Arizona lawmakers voted Wednesday to repeal an abortion ban that first became law when Abraham Lincoln was president, a century and a half before women were given the right to vote.

A bill to repeal the law passed in the Republican-controlled state Senate by a vote of 16-14, winning the support of all Democratic senators and two Republicans who broke with anti-abortion conservatives in their own party. It now goes to Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, who is expected to sign it.

The vote was the culmination of a feverish attempt to repeal the law that has made abortion a central focus of Arizona politics.

The issue has galvanized Democratic voters and inspired a campaign to put an abortion rights ballot measure before Arizona voters in November. On the right, a divide has emerged between abortion opponents who want to keep the law in place and Republican politicians who worry about the political backlash that could be triggered by supporting a near-total abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.

The 1864 law had been gathering dust on the books for decades. But three weeks ago, an election-year flashpoint occurred when the state Supreme Court, whose justices were all Republican-appointed, said in a 4-2 decision that the ban was now invalid because of the overturning of Roe v. Wade could be enforced.

Two Republican state senators, TJ Shope and Shawnna Bolick, joined with Democrats on Wednesday to force this repeal bill to a vote after fierce attempts by far-right Republicans to block it.

Before casting her deciding vote, Ms. Bolick stood and began a long, deeply personal speech in which she described her own three difficult pregnancies, including one that ended in an abortion in her first trimester because the fetus was not viable.

“Would Arizona's pre-Roe law have allowed me to perform this medical procedure even though my life would not have been in danger?” she asked.

But Ms. Bolick also railed against Planned Parenthood and Democrats' support for abortion rights. She argued that her vote to repeal Prohibition in 1864 could be Arizona's best chance to contain the momentum behind a proposed ballot measure to enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution.

“We should advocate for the greatest protection of unborn children that can be maintained,” she said. “I’m all for saving more baby lives.”

As she spoke, abortion opponents watching from the gallery erupted in angry shouts: “Come on!” “This is a disgrace!” “One day you will face a just and holy God!”

Several Republican anti-abortion lawmakers responded to the vote with fiery speeches. They equated abortion with Nazism and compared the repeal vote to the 9/11 attacks. You read graphic descriptions of later abortions. They quoted the Bible and made direct appeals to God in the Senate.

Some saw the repeal not simply as a rejection of anti-abortion principles, but as an explicit rejection of Christianity.

Two suffocated. Sen. JD Mesnard, who represents a suburban swing district, held up his phone and played an ultrasound recording of his daughter's heartbeat.

“If I vote yes, there will be fewer heartbeats,” he said.

State Sen. Anthony Kern, a Republican who was also among Arizona's bogus voters indicted last week on election conspiracy charges, said the Senate was betraying its opposition to abortion and predicted the vote would pave the way for acceptance of pedophilia.

“This is innocent blood,” he said. “Why can’t we show the nation that we are pro-life? If we do that, we will have God's blessing on this state. Our only hope is Jesus Christ.”

Democrats, for their part, were mostly silent or issued brief statements supporting repeal.

“We are here to repeal a bad law,” said state Sen. Eva Burch, who had an abortion this spring to end a nonviable pregnancy — an experience she described in an emotional speech.

Lawmakers had twice tried to force a repeal bill for a vote in the Republican-controlled state legislature but were blocked by conservative lawmakers. In tense scenes at the state Capitol, Democratic lawmakers shouted “Shame!” at Republicans and anti-abortion activists filled the rooms with prayers for the law to be upheld.

Then last week, three Republican members of the House voted with all Democrats in the chamber to repeal the 1864 ban, sending it to the Senate for final approval.

Ahead of Wednesday's vote, anti-abortion activists gathered outside the Capitol to urge lawmakers to rethink. They prayed under a tree, read Bible verses over a loudspeaker and discussed abortion rights supporters.

Amirrah Coronado, 17, took the morning off from her high school classes, put on a bright pink T-shirt and drove to the Capitol with her mother and siblings to support the repeal effort. As she walked towards the sunlit square, a woman shouted at her: “Abortion is murder!”

“I know how to talk,” Ms. Coronado said as an anti-abortion activist argued that Arizona needs stricter abortion laws. “This law – it dates back to when there was slavery here.”

In another corner of the plaza, Marisol Olivia Valenzuela encountered a group of anti-abortion protesters from Apologia Church, a Phoenix congregation that supports so-called “abortion abolition,” which would criminalize abortion from conception as murder.

“It’s murder,” Charlie Casteel, 16, said to Ms. Olivia Valenzuela. She didn't have it.

“You stand here as a man, but you will never have to make this decision,” she said. “I am totally pro-life, but why can’t we meet in the middle? The government should not rule our bodies. The government has nothing to do with it.”

After the Senate vote, Rep. Nancy Gutierrez, a Democrat and House minority leader, said she was thrilled they had “finally” brought the bill to the governor's desk. “It will absolutely save lives,” she said. “But we’re not done yet. We still have an initiative on the November ballot that will enshrine abortion access in our Arizona Constitution.”

Elizabeth Dias contributed to the reporting.

Anna Harden

Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *