Arizona Legislature Will Consider Repeal of 1864 Abortion Law

Arizona lawmakers seemed poised 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.

The expected vote in the Arizona State Senate could be the culmination of a fevered effort to repeal the law that has made abortion a central focus of Arizona’s politics.

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 the Republican-appointed justices of the State Supreme Court said the ban could now be enforced because of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Democrats 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 Arizona House joined with every Democrat in the chamber and voted to repeal the 1864 ban, sending it to the Arizona Senate for final approval.

Two Republican state senators have said they support scrapping the law, and lawmakers widely expect the repeal to pass on Wednesday and to be signed by Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat.

Anti-abortion activists, in a last-ditch effort to urge wavering lawmakers to reconsider, were planning a rally outside the Capitol on Wednesday morning, and they said they were also hoping to pack the public gallery in the State Senate.

Anti-abortion activists said they were worried that other states with Republican-controlled legislatures might now follow Arizona’s lead.

“This blueprint of irresponsibility and cowardice will be emulated across the nation by other opportunistic Republicans who gladly wear the pro-life cape for donor dollars but stab the movement in the back when it’s time to act,” Chanel Prunier, vice president of political affairs for Students for Life Action, said in a statement before the planned vote.

Voters in red states including Kansas and Ohio have approved ballot measures protecting abortion following the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision overturning the constitutional right to the procedure. Other Republican-controlled states, like Florida and Texas, have veered in the opposite direction by passing laws sharply curtailing abortion access.

Even if the repeal passes on Wednesday, abortions in Arizona will still be limited by a host of restrictions, including a 2022 law that prohibits abortions after 15 weeks. That law does not make any exceptions for rape or incest.

“We still have extreme abortion bans on the books,” said State Senator Priya Sundareshan, a Tucson lawmaker who is a co-chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Democrats hope the uproar over the 1864 ban will motivate voters to turn out in November for President Biden and to support the ballot measure enshrining abortion rights into Arizona’s Constitution.

They argue that without constitutional protections in Arizona, a more conservative legislature could one day reinstate the 1864 ban.

In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Democratic leaders hammered on their party’s message that President Donald J. Trump deserved blame for the revival of the 1864 law because he had appointed the U.S. Supreme Court justices who struck down Roe.

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