GOP-controlled Arizona House votes to repeal Civil War-era abortion ban

April 24, 2024

The Arizona House on Wednesday passed legislation that would repeal the state’s 1864 near-total abortion ban, as Republicans joined with all the chamber’s Democrats. 

It was the third repeal attempt in as many weeks. The previous tries were thwarted when Republicans blocked the bill from coming to the floor. 

But this time, the bill passed 32-28. Republican state Reps. Tim Dunn (R-Yuma) and Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix) joined Rep. Matt Gress (R-Phoenix) and all Democrats to bypass Speaker Ben Toma (R) and the rest of the GOP caucus. 

Last week, Gress was the only Republican who joined House Democrats in their effort to repeal the abortion ban. Democrats needed at least two Republicans to cross party lines.  

The measure now heads to the Senate, where it needs votes from at least two Republicans to pass. But the Senate already has begun moving forward on its own, identical version of the House repeal bill, suggesting it could pass as soon as the chamber meets next week. 

If the bill passes, it would be sent to Gov. Katie Hobbs (D), who has called on the legislature to repeal the law. 

Toma took a dig at Hobbs during the session, calling on her to rescind her executive order barring attorneys general from enforcing the law. 

“I’m disappointed, as I’ve said before, it appears that Democrats apparently believe that abortion should occur with no limits and no regulations. I fervently disagree,” Toma said when voting. “Most Arizonans do not support unrestricted abortion.” 

Arizona House Speaker finds himself in eye of abortion rights tornado

Republican lawmakers blasted those in their party who voted with Democrats. 

“We’re willing to kill infants in order to win an election. Put in that context, it becomes a little bit harder to stomach, doesn’t it? Besides, legalizing abortion up until birth is not going to help us win an election,” Rep. Alexander Kolodin (R) said. “Politics is important, but it’s not worth our souls.” 

Kolodin’s comments highlight the political conundrum Arizona conservatives have found themselves in ever since the state Supreme Court revived the territorial abortion law earlier this month. 

Some Republicans, including former President Trump and Senate hopeful Kari Lake, want to see the Civil War-era ban repealed. They recognize that the backlash against the 1864 law could upend conservative majorities in the state and hurt Trump’s campaign in the crucial swing state.

Lake has flipped back and forth on how she speaks about the 1864 measure. In 2022, while she was running for governor of Arizona, she called it a “great law.”

House Speaker Pro Tem Travis Grantham (R) said he was “proud of my Republican caucus that has fought this off as long as it has.” 

“This did not need to happen this quickly. This does not even change anything for easily four to five months. I think the timing on this is poor. I disagree with it wholeheartedly,” Grantham said. “I hope people are happy now, and I would encourage them to vote no on any further law that expands abortions in our state.”

If the 1864 ban were repealed, the state would revert to the 15-week ban that was invalidated by the court. 

Still, the repeal can’t go into effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends, and the session has no end date. The 1864 law will take effect June 8 at the earliest.  

The state Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month to reinstate the 1864 ban caused a national uproar and forced a political reckoning among Republicans, many of whom have long said abortion is morally indefensible. 

The century-old law, which was passed before Arizona became a state, makes abortion a felony punishable by two to five years in prison for anyone who performs or helps a woman obtain an abortion. 

Abortion rights advocates have been gathering signatures to place a referendum on the ballot that would protect access until the point of fetal viability, or roughly 24 weeks of pregnancy.  

Republicans now want to introduce their own, to limit abortion at 15 weeks or potentially six weeks. If both chambers of the Legislature can pass the same language, it would automatically get on the ballot in November.

The session was filled with raucous language from GOP lawmakers opposed to the bill.  

Arizona state Rep. David Marshall (R) claimed, without evidence, the push to expand abortion access was part of a “hidden racist agenda” targeting Black women to control the population.

Rep. Barbara Parker (R) compared surgical abortions to “drawing and quartering from the ancient Assyrians” and claimed that the procedure involved “sucking out their brains and selling their baby parts.”

Updated at 4:47 p.m.