Arizona can enforce an 1864 law that criminalizes nearly all abortions, the court says

(Matt York/Associated Press)

Arizona can enforce an 1864 law that criminalizes nearly all abortions, the court says

Abortion, 2024 elections


April 9, 2024

An Arizona Supreme Court decision on Tuesday that could end virtually all abortions in the state puts the issue front and center in a 2024 battleground that will play a crucial role in deciding the next president and majority in the Senate.

Democrats immediately pounced on the ruling, which allows a law first passed in 1864 to take effect. It allows doctors or others to be prosecuted for performing an abortion at any time unless the mother’s life is in danger, and contains no exceptions for rape or incest. Democrats blamed former President Trump for losing access to abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court, reshaped by his three appointments, ended a federally guaranteed right to abortion and allowed enforcement of state laws like Arizona’s.

Today’s decision to reinstate a law from a time when Arizona was not yet a state, the Civil War was raging and women could not even vote will go down in history as a stain on our state, Democratic Atty. General Kris Mayes said in a statement. She promised that prosecutors in her office would not enforce it.

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The decision will give Arizona the strictest abortion law among the six top-level battleground states ahead of the November election. That could provide a political advantage for President Biden and his allies campaigning to restore abortion rights, as Trump has avoided endorsing a national abortion ban and has openly warned that the issue could lead to Republican losses.

We will continue to fight to protect reproductive rights and call on Congress to pass a law protecting Roe v. Wade, Biden said in a statement shortly after the court ruling was announced.

Georgia bans abortions after about six weeks, while Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania allow abortions up to 20 weeks or later.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, also a Democrat, said the ruling “only serves to create more chaos for women and doctors in our state,” blaming Republicans for an ongoing attack on our fundamental rights.

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The ruling comes a day after Trump said abortion limits should be left to the states and declined to endorse a national ban after months of mixed messages and speculation.

Voters have consistently supported abortion rights when the question was asked directly to them, including in conservative states like Kansas and Kentucky. This issue is said to have helped Democrats exceed expectations in the 2022 midterm elections.

In Arizona, the political fallout from Tuesday’s ruling could be dire. Biden has made abortion rights a central focus of his campaign, as has Democratic Senate candidate Ruben Gallego. It will intensify efforts by abortion rights advocates to put before voters a ballot measure that would restore abortion rights.

This will boost signature gathering, said Ezra Levin, co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible, which is involved in the effort to add a ballot measure in Arizona to the case enshrining the constitutional right to abortion.

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Levin said supporters have already collected the 384,000 valid signatures needed by July 4. Now, he said, they aim to reach 800,000 signatures by July.

The law is likely to give a boost to Democrats trying to win the legislative majority in Arizona, giving them power over election laws in a battleground state.

According to AP VoteCast, a broad survey of the electorate, 61% of Arizona voters in the 2022 midterm elections said abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Only 6% said it should be illegal in all cases.

Two-thirds of midterm voters in Arizona said the overturning of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court was a major factor in their voting behavior in that election.

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About six in 10 Arizona voters in that election said they would support a law guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide.

Planned Parenthood officials said they would continue to offer abortions up to 15 weeks, as allowed by Arizona courts, but will have to phase them out in the coming months.

The old law was first introduced as part of a series of laws known as the Howell Code, passed by Arizona’s 1st Territorial Legislature in 1864, decades before Arizona became a state in 1912. Legislative researchers said that it remained in the criminal code in 1901 and was re-adopted in 1901. subsequent rewrites, also in the 1970s.

Cooper writes for the Associated Press. AP writers Steve Peoples in New York and Linley Sanders in Washington contributed to this report.


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