Arizona House Finally Passes Bill to Repeal 1864 Abortion Ban, But It’s Not Over Yet

After two previous, unsuccessful attempts, House Democrats were joined by three Republicans to repeal a criminal abortion ban established during the Civil War. 

Arizona House Finally Passes Bill to Repeal 1864 Abortion Ban, But It’s Not Over Yet

On Wednesday afternoon, the Arizona state House passed a bill to repeal an 1864, Civil War-era abortion ban that the state Supreme Court recently ruled could take effect. The ban in question threatens anyone who provides abortion care (unless to save the life of the pregnant person) with prison time. Wednesday’s House bill to repeal it drew support from three Republicans.

Last week, Arizona Democrats tried twice to pass the bill under a procedural vote, which requires a majority of the Republican-controlled chamber—including the House Speaker vote—to suspend House rules and hold an immediate vote. But on Wednesday, the House voted on the bill under normal House rules. The bill to repeal the abortion ban now advances to the state Senate, which just last week voted in favor of a motion to introduce its own bill to repeal the ban, with two Republican senators joining Senate Democrats.

In the immediate aftermath of the state Supreme Court ruling, Republicans in Arizona’s legislature hedged on whether to take action on the 1864 law. “We do not want to repeal the pre-Roe law without first having a conversation about it,” state Rep. Teresa Martinez (R) said on the House floor on April 10, adding that “there is no reason to rush on this very important topic,” even as the law is set to take effect in a few weeks. Despite how Republicans pretended to want to take their time on the matter, Axios reported that state House Speaker Ben Toma (R) supported the 1864 law and had no plan to allow a procedural vote for its repeal.

There remains a decently uphill battle to save abortion access in Arizona before the 1864 law can begin to take effect on June 8. The state Senate is required to read the bill to repeal the ban on the floor on three occasions in three separate sessions, meaning the earliest it can pass is next month. At the same time that all of this is happening, Arizona reproductive rights organizers have successfully gathered enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot this November that would establish a constitutional right to abortion in the state—which is great! But a strategy document circulating among Arizona Republicans, which was leaked last week, shows they’re also plotting to put an anti-abortion measure on the ballot. And at a state House Rules committee hearing on Wednesday, Republicans voted to advance three resolutions without offering any explanation for what these resolutions entail, which Democrats expect to undercut abortion rights, per NBC.

Still, Arizona Democrats are celebrating the passage of the House bill on Wednesday while acknowledging the challenges ahead. Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee National press secretary Sam Paisley called the bill’s passage “a clear victory,” but pointed out that even if the bill is ultimately successful, “an unpopular and dangerous 15-week abortion ban remains” in the state.

“The only way to protect reproductive freedoms is to elect Democrats to the legislature to repeal this ban too,” Paisley said. “From repeatedly refusing to allow a vote to repeal the 1864 ban for weeks to scheming to undermine the [abortion rights ballot measure], Republicans’ anti-abortion extremism couldn’t be more apparent. … It’s never been more important that we flip two seats in each chamber to deliver Democratic majorities.”

To Paisley’s point, despite Republican politicians’ best (and embarrassingly clumsy) efforts to distance themselves from the 160-year-old abortion law, this is all happening because the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade—a position they supported and continue to support. This is certainly something to remember as the 1864 law is criticized by former President Trump, all while Arizona’s Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake talks in circles and troll-under-the-bridge-level riddles about where she stands on the law. Over the weekend, Lake said it’s “unfortunate” that Gov. Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes, both Democrats, aren’t enforcing the law. Days before, Lake lobbied for the law to be repealed, and before that, in 2022, she called the archaic ban “a great law.”

The bill to repeal is a step in a promising direction but as the fight for abortion rights in the state continues, it can’t be emphasized enough that none of this would be happening if it weren’t for all the anti-abortion lawmakers who are now refusing to accept responsibility.

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