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Arizona Lawmakers Repeal 1864 Abortion Ban, Creating Rift on the Right

U.S.Arizona Lawmakers Repeal 1864 Abortion Ban, Creating Rift on the Right

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

A bill to repeal the law passed, 16-14, in the Republican-controlled State Senate with the support of every Democratic senator and two Republicans who broke with anti-abortion conservatives who dominate their party. It now goes to Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, who is expected to sign it on Thursday.

The vote was the culmination of a fevered effort to repeal the law that has made abortion a central focus of Arizona’s politics.

“We are standing in a moment of Arizona history,” said State Senator Anna Hernandez, a Democrat who called the repeal measure up to a vote on Wednesday.

The issue has galvanized Democratic voters and energized a campaign to put an abortion-rights ballot measure before Arizona voters in November. On the right, it created a rift between anti-abortion activists who want to keep the law in place and Republican politicians who worry about the political backlash that could be prompted by support of a near-total abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.

The 1864 law had gathered dust on the books for decades. But it exploded into an election-year flashpoint three weeks ago when a 4-2 decision by the State Supreme Court, whose justices are all Republican-appointed, said the ban could now be enforced because of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

After the repeal is finalized, abortions in Arizona will be governed by a 2022 law that prohibits the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and makes no exception for rape or incest.

But the repeal will not take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns for the summer, meaning that the 1864 ban could still end up temporarily derailing abortion access in Arizona if a court allows it to go into effect. Arizona’s Democratic attorney general and Planned Parenthood Arizona have gone to court to keep the law from being implemented.

Two Republican state senators, T.J. Shope and Shawnna Bolick, joined with Democrats on Wednesday to force that repeal bill to a vote over furious attempts by far-right Republicans to block it.

Before casting her pivotal vote, Ms. Bolick stood up and began a long, deeply personal speech describing her own three challenging pregnancies, including one that ended with an abortion procedure in her first trimester because the fetus was not viable.

“Would Arizona’s pre-Roe law have allowed me to have this medical procedure even though my life wasn’t in danger?” she asked.

But Ms. Bolick, whose husband is one of the Arizona Supreme Court justices who upheld the 1864 law, also railed against Planned Parenthood and Democratic support for abortion rights. She suggested that her vote to repeal the 1864 ban could be the best shot for conservatives to thwart the abortion ballot measure.

“We should be pushing for the maximum protection for unborn children that can be sustained,” she said. “I side with saving more babies’ lives.”

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

The repeal was a significant loss for the anti-abortion movement, which had relied on its outsized strength in the Arizona Legislature, The vote came hours after conservatives celebrated a six-week abortion ban that went into effect in Florida on Wednesday morning. The repeal leaves Republican lawmakers divided about whether to place their own more restrictive abortion measure on the ballot in November to compete with the constitutional amendment supported by abortion-rights groups.

Conservative activists had worked for years to elect and support anti-abortion proponents to the Legislature, enabling them to stand firm against outside pressure. But the narrow loss showed that they are vulnerable even in the places where they have built some of their greatest power, as their national political influence weakens.

Several anti-abortion Republican lawmakers made fiery speeches that framed the vote in spiritual terms. They equated abortions to Naziism and compared the repeal with the Sept. 11 attacks. They read graphic descriptions of later-term abortions. They quoted the Bible and made direct appeals to God from the Senate floor.

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

Two choked up. Senator J.D. Mesnard, who represents a suburban swing district, held up his phone and played a sonogram recording of his daughter’s heartbeat.

“If I vote yes, these will be fewer, these heart beatings,” he said.

State Senator Anthony Kern, a Republican who was also among Arizona’s fake electors indicted last week in an election-conspiracy case, said the Senate was betraying its opposition to abortion, and predicted that the vote would pave the way for acceptance of pedophilia.

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

Democrats, for their part, mostly stayed silent or made brief statements supporting repeal.

After the repeal passed, State Senator Eva Burch, a Democrat, called it “one step in the right direction” and quickly pivoted to focus on the coming fight over the abortion ballot measure.

Ms. Burch became a particularly visible face of the abortion-rights movement in Arizona this year after she made an emotional floor speech to announce she needed an abortion to end a nonviable pregnancy. She criticized the two Republican defectors for their past votes on abortion issues but said, “They stood with us,” to overturn the 1864 ban.

“I’m grateful for that,” she said.

Legislators had tried twice to force a repeal bill to a vote in the Republican-controlled state Legislature, only to be blocked by conservative lawmakers. In tense scenes inside the State Capitol, Democratic lawmakers shouted “Shame!” at Republicans, and anti-abortion activists filled the chambers with prayers to uphold the law.

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

Before the vote on Wednesday, anti-abortion activists gathered outside the Capitol in a last-ditch effort to urge lawmakers to reconsider. They prayed under a tree, read scripture over a loudspeaker and argued with abortion rights supporters.

Amirrah Coronado, 17, took the morning off from her high school classes, put on a light pink T-shirt and drove to the Capitol with her mother and siblings to support the repeal effort. As she walked toward the sun-splashed plaza, a woman yelled at her, “Abortion is murder!”

“I know how to speak,” Ms. Coronado said as an anti-abortion activist made a case that Arizona needed stricter abortion laws. “This law — it’s from when slavery was here.”

In another corner of the plaza, Marisol Olivia Valenzuela faced off with a cluster of anti-abortion demonstrators from Apologia Church, a Phoenix congregation that supports so-called “abortion abolition” that would criminalize abortion from conception as homicide.

“It’s murder,” Charlie Casteel, 16, told Ms. Olivia Valenzuela. She was not having it.

“You’re standing here as a male, but you will never have to make that decision,” she said. “I am totally pro-life, but why can’t we meet in the middle? Government shouldn’t govern our bodies. Government has nothing to do with this.”

After the Senate vote, Representative Nancy Gutierrez, a Democrat and the House minority whip, said she was excited that they “finally” got the bill to the governor’s desk. “It will absolutely save lives,” she said. “However, we are not finished. We still have an initiative to get on the November ballot that will codify abortion access in our Arizona Constitution.”

Ada Martin, 55, who owns her own educational consulting company and is on the board of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, heard the news of the repeal as she was celebrating her birthday. It was a positive development, she said, but noted the three-month lag time in which the ban could be in effect.

Passing the ballot measure in November is still her primary goal, she said.

“People tend to have a perception about abortion, but as far as I am concerned abortion is health care, and the communities that are most adversely affected, regardless of religious influence, are communities of color,” she said. “I am just worried about the ability for those individuals to make choices about their bodies.”


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